Public Sector Unions in Turmoil After High Court Rules They Can’t Force Non-Union Workers to Pay Fees
WASHINGTON, DC, July 27 – The world of organized labor is in turmoil in the aftermath of the June 27th Supreme Court decision banning public sector unions from collecting fees from non-union workers. Attorney Mark J. Neuberger, who specializes in employment law at the firm of Foley & Lardner, says the ruling was “a stunning blow to public sector unions.”
Dan Weber, president of the Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC], said the court’s action has negative implications for the ability of public sector unions to fund political campaigns going forward. “I don’t believe the ruling is a death blow, but it can have the effect of putting a limit on impact of union political power.”
In California, The National Right to Work Foundation has filed a lawsuit against the state’s largest public employee union, SEIU Local 1000, seeking the return of $100 million it collected from some 40,000 workers over the years. The suit claims that the union used “burdensome” opt-out procedures to collect the fees that were outlawed by the high court.
Meanwhile, New York State is taking measures to stop collecting “agency shop fees” from some 31,000 non-union state workers. And, groups opposed to state employee unions, are targeting “two groups: new public employees and disenfranchised or disinterested members vacillating on whether they want to join and pay dues,” according to a report at the local news Web site, lohud.com.
“Similar activities aimed at curtailing the political power of unions have been increasing throughout the U.S. since the Supreme Court handed down its decision,” Weber notes.
Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees No 16-1466, which declared the “procedure violates the First Amendment and cannot continue. Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a non-member’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”
Weber says “One thing is for sure: public sector unions will have less money in their coffers to support the election of Democrats at all levels of government. In addition, unions such as the all-powerful teachers’ unions may find it harder to recruit and keep members. The incentive to join or remain in a union is weakened If a worker can benefit from a union’s activities, such as collective bargaining, without having to pay the union.”
Attorney Neuberger says “the Janus decision reinforces a right guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, that people should be able to decide which organizations they want to join (and fund) and which they don’t.”
The blowback from the unions – the teachers’ unions, in particular – was fast and furious. That was to be expected. But, some individual teachers applauded the Supreme Court action.
Madeline Will, who writes for Education Week, reported in her online Blog, Teacher Beat, that “Ryan Yohn, an 8th grade U.S. history teacher in Westminster, Calif., said the ruling felt like a ‘14-year-old dark cloud that’s been over my head has lifted.’ Yohn, along with other teachers, filed an amicus brief in the Janus case arguing that he shouldn’t be forced to pay union dues to an entity he doesn’t support… Every worker in America should at least be comforted. They have an option now, they have an out, and that means the unions will have to be more accountable [to them].”
Weber reports that there is evidence the most powerful teachers’ union, the National Education Association, which is considered to be the largest labor union in the U.S., is expected to be a big loser as a result of the Janus decision. “The NEA might lose some 300,000 or more members and the ruling might cost the union $50 million or more.”
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