WASHINGTON—In a 5-4 decision almost as predictable as the sun coming up this morning, the Supreme Court ruled that public-sector employees can’t be required to pay any fees to the unions that represent them.

The Janus decision has gone against Organized Labor.

The case overturned the Court’s 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which held that workers could not be forced to pay for unions’ explicitly political activities, such as campaign contributions, but had to pay for the costs of collective bargaining and representation in grievance procedures. The resulting “fair-share fees” or “agency fees” were typically about 80% of full dues.

“Under Illinois law, public employees are forced to subsidize a union, even if they choose not to join and strongly object to the positions the union takes in collective bargaining and related activities,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31. “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.”

“It is shameful that the billionaire CEOs and corporate special interests behind this case have succeeded in manipulating the highest court in the land to do their bidding,” the nation’s four largest public-sector unions—AFSCME, the Service Employees International Union, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers—responded in a joint statement. “This case was nothing more than a blatant political attack to further rig our economy and democracy against everyday Americans in favor of the wealthy and powerful.”

This case was nothing more than a blatant political attack to further rig our economy and democracy against everyday Americans in favor of the wealthy and powerful — AFSCME, SEIU, NEA, AFT.

The case, filed by Illinois state employee Mark Janus with the backing of several anti-union organizations, turned on the argument that all activity by public-sector unions is political. When Illinois “offered cost-saving proposals” during bargaining, Justice Alito wrote, AFSCME Council 31 countered by advocating “wage and tax increases,” “cutting spending ‘to Wall Street financial institutions,’” and “closing ‘corporate tax loopholes.’”

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who filed an early version of the case in 2015 as part of his effort to cut state workers’ pensions, called the decision a “great victory for state employees and Illinois taxpayers” on Twitter.

The Court also ruled that union fees could no longer be deducted from nonmembers’ paychecks “unless employees clearly and affirmatively consent before any money is taken from them.” Alito argued that it is next to impossible to calculate which expenses are “chargeable” as political activities and which are not.

Justice Elena Kagan, dissenting, argued that the Abood precedent set the right balance, ensuring that unions required to represent all workers received “adequate funding” while allowing employees to abstain from the union’s political activity. An “agency-fee provision prevents employees from reaping all the ‘benefits of union representation’—higher pay, a better retirement plan, and so forth—while leaving it to others to bear the costs,” she wrote.

Alito dismissed concerns about “free riders,” saying that representing nonpaying employees in grievance procedures isn’t a burden on unions because the results benefit all members.

“There is no sugarcoating today’s opinion,” Justice Kagan wrote. “The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this Nation’s law—and in its economic life—for over 40 years. As a result, it prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance. And it does so by weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.”

The decision was easily predictable. Two years ago, the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on virtually identical arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death eliminated the fifth vote to overturn Abood. Scalia’s replacement, Neil Gorsuch, was a clear antilabor vote: In a 2016 appeals-court dissent, he argued that a truck driver was justifiably fired after he detached his cab from a disabled trailer and drove off rather than freeze to death.

The decision may also open the door to future litigation chipping away at union rights, such as exclusive representation. “Designating a union as the employees’ exclusive representative substantially restricts the rights of individual employees,” Alito wrote. “Among other things, this designation means that individual employees may not be represented by any agent other than the designated union; nor may individual employees negotiate directly with their employer.”

While this is legally “dicta,” comments that are not a binding part of the decision, it is the same tactic Alito used in his opinion in the 2014 Harris v. Quinn case, a 5-4 decision that exempted Medicaid-paid home health-care workers from agency fees as “partial public employees.” In his dicta, he called the Abood precedent “questionable on several grounds,” arguing that bargaining to increase public workers’ pensions, for example, was inherently political activity.

The decision “rigs the system like never before against working-class families and sets America up for an explosion of the most economic inequality since the Gilded Age,” responded UNITE HERE, whose 60,000-member Local 226 Culinary Union in Las Vegas is the largest union in a state that prohibits the union shop.

“This decision robs power from working families to put it in the hands of corporate elites,” UNITE HERE International President D. Taylor said. “Let us allow it to serve as a catalyst to the labor movement for bolder, stronger worker organizing. This ruling is designed to break American workers by putting unfair burdens on us that the corporate elites think we cannot beat—but together we can let it embolden us to organize to greater heights than we have ever before and deliver the tangible victories that transform workers’ lives.”



2 thoughts on “Right Wing Court Rules Against Workers In Janus Case”

  1. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, goes right to the heart of “Right-to-Work” laws, which were conceived with the sole intention of bankrupting unions and reduce the chance of workers advancing in society through organizing. To understand ‘Right to Work’, you must go back in history to 1935 of the creation of the National Labor Relations Act (also known as the Wagner Act). That was the year that Congress or more so, their constituents, finally had enough of decades of exploiting, abusing, cheating and killing of workers who fought for conditions we still enjoy today.

    The Wagner Act did what it was supposed to do. It implemented a peaceful way for workers to obtain a voice in ones’ workplace. The first five years after passage, nearly 8 million workers were unionized. Only a few years after the Second World War, nearly one-third of American workers were unionized, providing better wages, benefits and job security, which created a new class of people, known as the Middle Class, which is nearing extinction.

    The Wagner Act provided the common worker a voice in their workplace, regardless of race or gender, which infuriated business leaders and segregationists. Equality in America could surely now become a reality, if you went to work, worked hard and were able to bargain for your services, rather than having them dictated by the employer. This bothered the elite and big business, who lobbied Republicans and Democrats, to once again erode labor. Congress then crafted a Bill call the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. At first, President Truman vetoed Taft Hartley and argued that it was a “dangerous intrusion on free speech”, and that it would “conflict with important principles of our democratic society”. One hundred and six Democrats in the House joined with twenty Democratic Senators to achieve the 2/3 majority needed to override the Veto.

    Taft-Hartley provided many components to employers. It now allowed companies the ability to legally put out propaganda views on unions to their workers during organizing drives, more importantly, having it done at captured mandatory meetings by the company without any rebuttal from the union! Taft-Hartley also outlawed industry-wide strikes, secondary boycotts, and sympathy strikes. The biggest win for Business was the beginning of the erosion of the ‘closed shop’. First, a ‘closed shop’ simply says if you work at a company which has a union, you must join the union whom the majority of employees have decided to have. Taft-Hartley then gave the states the right to decide this. Simply, if a state passed legislation forbidding Closed Shops, then you were free from Union dues if you so elected.

    If your company has a union, Federal Law mandates Union representation, regardless of membership. By no mistake did Taft Hartley not address or re-legislate that requirement. This was raised by those who opposed it, but Congress had even a better plan to stifle labor. Congress knew a lot of northern states would not adapt Right to Work laws. They then crafted legislation that if a State did not adapt Right to Work laws, then you did not have to be a member of a Union if you worked in a ‘closed shop’, but did have to pay ‘your fair share’ or a service fee to the union for services rendered, a fee much lower than union dues.

    Comically, during the Janus Hearing, Chief Justice Roberts noted; he felt Union members would surely pay union dues if their Union Officials worked harder, if this ruling came to law. If true, then why can’t we all pay taxes on that supposition? Surely, if Americans felt they didn’t get their appropriate bang for their tax buck, then according to Roberts, if they stop paying taxes, then politicians and public workers would work harder to get those Americans back in the tax system? Chief Justice Roberts knows his statement is hogwash and he and the Majority of Justices further ignored the 9th Amendment to the Constitution in the Janus Decision. The 9th Amendment simply gives enumerated rights to the Citizens which rights were retained by the people without spelling out each Right.

    A Union must always maintain majority status in a workplace to be recognized. Since the Wagner Act was constitutionally sustained in 1937, and in 1977 the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in ‘Abood’ that agency fees are for services rendered, the Court today is now a Political Arm rather than a Judicial one.
    The Janus ruling is the epitome of hypocrisy, to the so-called conservative movement, who on one hand promotes all to pay their fair share and less government interaction in business, just as long as it don’t compromise their pockets!

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