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Supreme Court rules against public sector unions, says employees can't be forced to pay dues

Visitors line up outside the U.S. Supreme Court plaza before the court handed down decisions June 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court ruled  5-4 Wednesday in Janus v. AFSCME that public sector unions do not have a constitutional right to be able to force employees to pay dues. From now on, employees will have to give consent before any money from their paycheck goes to support a public-sector union. This ruling does not involve unions at private companies.

What's the story?

Mark Janus works as a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Janus opted out of being a member of the AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) union. However, even though he was not a member, Janus was still required to pay "fair share" dues to the union.

Janus said that he's not anti-union, but that he objects to being forced to pay for a union he is not even a part of. He argued that being forced to pay dues to a politically active union in return for employment violates his First Amendment rights.

What are "fair share" fees?

Federal law prevents unions from requiring employees to join a union as a condition of their employment. However, unions argue that since their collective bargaining benefits all employees, all employees should be required to pay into the union.

These "fair share" fees or "agency fees" are supposed to go strictly to collective bargaining and contract negotiation, and not political activism. Unions say that these fees also help pay for representation if a worker is being mistreated by an employer.

Unions argue that removing these fees or making them voluntary would substantially weaken their ability to perform even basic functions. However, Janus argued that having to donate any money to a politically active union violates his rights.

What did the Supreme Court say?

Writing the opinion of the court, Justice Samuel Alito said that the justices had concluded that the act of taking union dues from employees who chose not to join a union "violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern."

Alito added:

Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates that cardinal constitutional command, and in most contexts, any such effort would be universally condemned. Suppose, for example, that the State of Illinois required all residents to sign a document expressing support for a particular set of positions on controversial public issues—say, the platform of one of the major political parties. No one, we trust, would seriously argue that the First Amendment permits this.

How did the justices vote?

This vote took place largely along ideological lines, with Anthony Kennedy, who is often considered to be the swing vote, siding with the more conservative justices. Alito delivered the opinion of the court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch. Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer dissented.

One last thing…
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