The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will hear arguments in Janus v. the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a case that seeks to starve public-sector unions of the funding they need to provide services to members.
“The Janus case is paid for and brought to us by people who want to destroy unions so your benefits and rights can be taken away,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew wrote to members in a Sept. 28 email.
Under current law, public employees covered by union contracts can opt out of paying for the political activities of their unions. In fact, people can choose not to join the union at all. But because unions do so much more than political work, including negotiating contracts for pay raises, benefits, job protections and more that benefit all workers, states may pass collective bargaining laws that require all public employees at unionized workplaces to contribute their fair share toward those costs. Those who choose not to join the union must pay so-called “agency fees.”
Agency fees were first upheld by the high court in its 1977 ruling in the Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case.
The Janus case threatens this 40-year-old legal precedent. A ruling barring the collection of agency fees would be the culmination of a decades-long, coordinated campaign by conservative groups to debilitate unions, one of the few remaining strong advocates for workers in the political arena.
The same anti-worker organizations that funded the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association lawsuit, including the National Right to Work Foundation, the Liberty Justice Center and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, are funding and supporting the Janus lawsuit.
The Janus case reprises the same arguments made in the Friedrichs case, which also sought to have agency fees declared unconstitutional. The high court deadlocked 4-4 in 2016 in the Friedrichs case after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia left the court without a majority. Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s appointee, has voted consistently with the court’s more conservative members and is expected to supply a fifth vote against workers and their unions.
“As we brace for this challenge ahead, remember that all of us together are the union,” said Mulgrew. “Because we have stuck together, we have pensions, employer-paid health insurance, job security, due-process rights, a grievance process and a voice in how our schools are run.”
The appeal in the new case was brought by the Virginia-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center on behalf of Mark Janus, an employee of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, who has $44.58 deducted from his paycheck every month to cover the collective-bargaining expenses of his union, AFSCME. The lawsuit contends that the collection of these fees violates Janus’ First Amendment free-speech right.
The court is expected to issue a ruling in the Janus case no later than June.