A Supreme Court with a reconstituted conservative majority is taking on a new case, which originated in Illinois, with the potential to financially cripple Democratic-leaning labor unions that represent government workers. The justices deadlocked 4-4 in a similar case last year.
The high court agreed Thursday to again consider a free-speech challenge from workers who object to paying money to unions they don’t support.
The court could decide to overturn a 40-year-old Supreme Court ruling that allows public sector unions to collect fees from non-members to cover the costs of negotiating contracts for all employees.
The latest appeal is from a state employee in Illinois. It was filed at the Supreme Court just two months after Justice Neil Gorsuch filled the high court seat that had been vacant since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.
Union leaders say that collecting what they call “fair-share fees” ensures that workers can push for higher wages and better job conditions. If the fees weren’t mandatory, workers could become free riders, benefiting from union representation without paying for it, according to a branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that represents Janus and other Illinois workers.
“Abood acknowledged that certain labor-relations interests justify the small intrusion on employees’ First Amendment interests that fair-share payments represent,” the union argued.
Janus works as a child-support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare Services. He was one of three employees who took over a lawsuit originally filed by Illinois’s Republican governor, Bruce Rauner.
* Press release…
In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement today that it is granting a writ of certiorari in Janus v. AFSCME, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President Mark Mix issued the following statement:
“With the Supreme Court agreeing to hear the Janus case, we are now one step closer to freeing over 5 million public sector teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other employees from the injustice of being forced to subsidize a union as a condition of working for their own government.
“As the Court noted in the National Right to Work Foundation’s landmark Knox v. SEIU victory, compelled speech under the guise of forced union dues is an ‘anomaly’ under the First Amendment. We are hopeful that by the end of this Supreme Court term, the High Court will finally end this anomaly and fully protect the First Amendment rights of public sector workers against an injustice that has existed for over half a century.”
National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys, along with attorneys with the Illinois-based Liberty Justice Center, are providing free legal representation to plaintiff Mark Janus, a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Service.
Jacob Huebert, director of litigation at the Liberty Justice Center, issued the following statement:
“We are pleased the Supreme Court has agreed to take up this case and revisit a 40-year-old precedent that has allowed governments to violate the First Amendment rights of millions of workers. People shouldn’t be forced to surrender their First Amendment right to decide for themselves what organizations they support just because they decide to work for the state, their local government or a public school.
“Right now, public sector employees in Illinois and many other states aren’t given a choice: They’re automatically forced to give their money to a union. Janus v. AFSCME presents an opportunity to restore fairness and First Amendment rights to millions of American workers by giving them the right to choose whether to support a union with their money.”
The case will likely be argued in early 2018 with a decision issued before the Court adjourns at the end of its term in June.
More information, including legal briefs in the case, can be found at www.nrtw.org/janus.
* Rauner administration press release…
Today the United States Supreme Court took an important first step toward ending the unconstitutional practice of dipping into the paychecks of hardworking State employees and forcing them to pay into the union coffers, even if they are not members of the union.
“No person should be forced to give up a portion of their pay each month to fund public sector union activity against their will,” said Governor Bruce Rauner. “It’s a fundamental violation of their First Amendment right to free speech and association. I am hopeful the Court will see it that way in the end.”
The Court has questioned this practice twice in the past five years. Most recently in June of 2016, when it split 4-4, following the death of Justice Scalia. By granting certiorari in Janus v. AFSCME today, the Court is again indicating that it’s concerned about the constitutional implications of forcing non-union members to fund union activities.
Governor Rauner’s Administration has been a leader in protecting the free speech and free association rights of State employees since taking office. These efforts began with Executive Order 2015-13, which directed state agencies to comply with the First Amendment and formed the initial impetus for the Janus case. While the Administration is no longer a party to the litigation, it is pleased to know the Supreme Court has recognized the issues warrant careful consideration. The Court has agreed to resolve this question by the time its current session ends, next June.