Demonstrators surrounded the U.S. Supreme Court Monday during oral arguments in a case that will decide whether to outlaw mandatory union dues in the public sector.
Lead plaintiff Mark Janus argues in his legal challenge that mandatory union dues violate his constitutional rights. He argues that workers should have the right to choose whether they want to fund a union or not. Those opposed counter that unions are critical to protecting workers and upholding their rights and should be compensated for that.
Mark Janus addressed the crowd shortly after oral arguments. He was at the podium for less than a minute as hecklers shouted over him by chanting “shame” – in a likely reference to the hit fantasy series Game of Thrones. He thanked the crowd before leaving. Attorney Jacob Huebert took to the podium shortly after him when the heckling began to die down.
“We are pleased how everything went in the courtroom today,” Huebert, who is helping to represent Janus, said. “We remain very optimistic. This is the biggest case for worker rights in a generation, and we’re hopeful that the Supreme Court will restore a worker’s right to choose whether they want to give money to a political advocacy group like a union. And hopefully, the court will say clearly that when you get a government job, you don’t leave your rights at the door.”
Huebert works as the director of litigation at the Liberty Justice Center. The group has provided legal assistance in the case alongside the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The groups are hoping the court overrules a decades-old decision that has upheld mandatory union payments.
The Law as It Stands Today
The U.S. Constitution bans compelled speech, like being forced to fund political activities. Labor unions currently can require dues in states without right-to-work protections so long as nonmembers have the option of paying a nonpolitical fair-share fee. The lawsuit argues that public-sector collective bargaining and political lobbying are the same, and thus all payments should be optional.
“We stand united in fighting a rigged system that rewards the super-wealthy at everyone else’s expense,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a statement. “And we will not rest until we build an economy where everyone has a voice on the job, a seat at the table and a chance to succeed.”
Law’s Opponents Argue That It Forces Union Representation
Mark Janus supporters have contested the workers are being forced to accept union representation. Some workers might not even want the benefits their workplace union is fighting for – but still are legally obligated to fund those activities. Seniority policies, for example, reward workers based on how long they’ve been working as opposed to how hard.
“No worker who wants to serve the public should be forced to pay union fees against their will and at the risk of losing his or her job,” CEI labor policy expert Trey Kovacs said in a statement provided to InsideSources. “Since collective bargaining in the public sector is inherently political, it is a blatant violation of the First Amendment rights of public-sector workers. Everyone deserves the freedom to choose how they are represented at work and where their money goes.”
Labor unions that are members-only aren’t obligated to represent non-members. Labor unions generally decide not to become members-only because exclusive representation blocks other labor groups from trying to organize an established bargaining unit. But that also means they have to represent every worker in that workplace even if they don’t pay dues.
Will Supreme Court Overturn Mandatory Dues?
The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to overturn its decision upholding mandatory fees during the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. The court found in that case that unions could require fees from nonmembers. It also established the nonpolitical fair-share fee.
Labor unions and their supporters have also argued that the state workers are being used in a corporate scheme to undermine worker rights. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a progressive research nonprofit, tackled the issue Feb. 21 in a paper that allegedly found the case is a coordinated effort financed by wealthy donors.
Justice Gorsuch Likely Is Deciding Vote
The U.S. Supreme Court heard a nearly identical case back in 2016. Rebecca Friedrichs eventually lost that case with the court split after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Neil Gorsuch was appointed to fill the empty seat. He is likely to become the deciding vote in favor of the state workers against the union.
Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch
The U.S. Supreme Court could make a decision anytime in the coming months. Most observers expect that a ruling is likely when the current term ends in June.
About the Author
Connor Wolf discovered his love for writing and politics at a young age while growing up in Connecticut. He eventually had the chance to pursue his passions when entering the world of journalism. Since that time he has covered labor policy, business and financial regulations. Follow him on Twitter. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.