U.S. Supreme Court will hear union dues case
Public sector labor groups react with anger
Rick Karlin, Times Union
Updated 6:00 pm, Thursday, September 28, 2017
ALBANY — Unions including the New York State United Teachers and the AFL-CIO reacted angrily Thursday to news that the U.S. Supreme Court will revisit a case that could decide whether public sector labor groups can collect fees from workers they represent but who are not members.
The case, Janus v. AFSCME, challenges the federal agency fee provisions that allow public sector unions in 22 states, including New York, to mandate that represented individuals pay fees rather than dues if they don’t want to join the applicable union.
A similar case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, was heard by the Supreme Court in January 2016, but resulted in a deadlocked decision following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Unions fear the high court, now joined by conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, will overturn the provision, dealing a severe fiscal blow to their operations.
In Friedrichs, a Los Angeles public school teacher sought to end her payments to the teachers union there. In the case still to be heard by the court, Illinois state child protective worker Mark Janus is objecting to fees he’s obligated to pay to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents him.
“This case is a blatant attempt to take away the freedom of working people to join unions and speak up for themselves on the job,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said in a statement.
“Well-funded, powerful corporations are behind this case and are out to destroy the American dream,” said AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento.
If the court rules against the fees, it would overturn a 40-year-old decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, in which the justices said it was legal to require all public employees in a given work category, not just union members, to pay for the cost of collective bargaining and handling grievances.
The mandatory payments, or agency fees, apply to those activities but can exclude the cost of campaign contributions or lobbying, which are included in more traditional union dues.
The court’s conservatives have said the fees could violate workers’ First Amendment rights because unions frequently take stands on public issues. The more liberal justices believe the fees should be a matter left to individual states and how they deal with their public sector unions.
The Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME could come next summer.
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