In a 5-4 opinion issued on June 27, 2018, the United States Supreme Court ruled that government and public-sector unions can no longer require fees from non-members. In the process, the highest court in the land overturned a more than four decades old Supreme Court decision. The justices determined that forcing employees who refuse to join a union to pay fees violates free-speech protections outlined in the First Amendment. Christian teachers, supporters of the school-choice movement, and other educators will likely benefit from this decision.
Associate Justice Samuel Alito authored the majority opinion. The five justices who voted in the majority decided that the Supreme Court made a mistake in 1971 when it determined a government entity could make public workers pay a fair share of the expense a union incurs when it negotiates on employees’ behalves regarding terms of employment. In the recent case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a child support specialist working at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Mark Janus, declined to become a member of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council. Janus refused to join the union due to his opposition to several of the public policy positions it advocates.
The plaintiff in the Supreme Court case also baulked at being charged “agency fees” reimbursing the union as a part of his employment. In 2016, Janus sued the union arguing a state law coercing state workers to remit “agency fees” to an exclusive representative infringed upon his First Amendment right to free speech. A district court dismissed his claims citing the 41-year-old Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case. According to Baptist News Global, that case determined “open union shops allowed in the private sector are also legal in public-sector jobs, as long as the fees charged to non-members are for expenses related to collective bargaining services and not political or ideological activities of the union to which non-members might object.”
Before being heard in the Supreme Court, the Seventh United States Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s decision. In the majority opinion, Justice Alito proclaimed that a union procedure that automatically remits monies from nonmembers’ paychecks “violates the First Amendment and cannot continue.” He went on to say, “Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.” Justice Alito mentioned that the “agency fees” associated with the Janus case comprised a mind-numbing 78 percent of the full union dues. He remarked that these fees required non-members to pay for things like “lobbying,” “litigation,” “advertising,” and other “services.”
Justice Alito wrote, “We conclude that this arrangement violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”
He also added, “It is hard to estimate how many billions of dollars have been taken from nonmembers and transferred to public-sector unions in violation of the First Amendment.”
Besides Alito, Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the plaintiff. In her dissent, Associate Justice Elena Kagan said “no special justifications for reversing Abood” exist. She stated that the decision “will have large-scale consequences.”
Regarding the decision, David Schmus, executive director of the Christian Educators Association International, CEAI, said, “For years many teachers, including me, have been legally required to financially support unions as a condition of their employment, knowing that their money was going to Planned Parenthood or similar causes — no more.”
The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke informed NPR, “The unions have long pushed back against any sort of school choice efforts, even charter schools…Unions are going to have fewer dollars to push back against long-overdue education reforms. They’ll have to make some tough decisions.”
~ 1776 Christian