Supreme Court to hear labor union case
Gorsuch holds deciding vote
America’s union leaders are about to find out if they were right to fiercely oppose Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court as a pivotal, potentially devastating vote against organized labor.
The newest justice holds the deciding vote in a case to be argued Monday that could affect the financial viability of unions that are major supporters of Democratic candidates and causes. The unions represent more than 5 million government workers in 24 states and the District of Columbia who could be affected by the outcome. The other eight justices split 4 to 4 when the issue was last at the court in 2016.
The court is being asked to jettison a 41-year-old ruling that allows states to require government employees who don’t want to be union members to pay for their share of activities the union undertakes on behalf of all workers, not just its members. These so-called fair-share fees cover the costs of collective bargaining and grievance procedures to deal with workplace complaints.
Employees who don’t join the union do not have to pay for the unions’ political activities.
Conservative anti-union interests are backing an Illinois government employee who says that being forced to pay anything at all violates his First Amendment speech rights.
“I’m not against unions,” said the employee, 65-year-old Mark Janus, who is represented by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31. “I don’t oppose the right of workers to organize. But the right to say no to unions is just as important as the right to say yes.” He said he opposes his union’s fight for wage and benefit increases when the state is “in pretty terrible financial condition right now.”
William Messenger, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation lawyer who is representing Janus at the Supreme Court, said everything the union does, including its bargaining with the state, is political, and employees should not be forced to pay for it.
The issue might have been settled in Janus’ favor two years ago. In January 2016, the court heard an identical complaint from California teachers and appeared to be ready to decide that states have no right to compel workers to pay money to unions. But less than a month later, Justice Antonin Scalia died and the court soon after announced its tie, in effect a win for the unions.