WASHINGTON — A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court delivered a major blow to organized labor Wednesday, ruling public sector unions cannot charge non-members fees to cover collective bargaining costs.
The 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME overturns a 41-year-old Supreme Court precedent and hands a big victory to conservatives who seek to break unions.
Charging the non-members the fees violates their First Amendment right to free speech, Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote in the majority opinion.
“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,” Alito wrote. “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.”
The case involves Mark Janus, an Illinois Department of Healthcare and Human Services employee, who asked the high court forbid public sector unions from collecting the “fair-share” fees. Janus argued being forced to pay his $45 monthly fee violated his First Amendment free speech rights because of union negotiations with government amount to political advocacy.
Wednesday’s decision reverses the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education ruling, which stipulated non-union members can be compelled to pay fees to cover collective bargaining costs but not political advocacy.
Unions say the decision will affect more than 5 million employees nationwide.
The American Federal of State, County, and Municipal Employees attacked the decision, saying in a statement: “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. 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.”
President Donald Trump backed the decision almost immediately, tweeting:
Supreme Court rules in favor of non-union workers who are now, as an example, able to support a candidate of his or her choice without having those who control the Union deciding for them. Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 27, 2018