For the last four decades, public sector unions have been able to collect billions of dollars in fees, including from non-members.
Currently, non-union members pay an agency fee to cover the expenses for negotiating contracts for all employees.
But thanks to an upcoming Supreme Court case, the relationship between workers and public unions could finally be redefined.
On February 26, the Supreme Court will hear arguments for the Janus v. AFSCME. Depending on the outcome, non-members could no longer have to pay these fees.
The petitioner and employee at Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Mark Janus believes that under the First Amendment he shouldn't be forced to pay union fees that are automatically deducted from his paycheck when he doesn't agree with the politics of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME.)
Janus included a fiery Thomas Jefferson quote in his court filing that says "compel a man to furnish contribution of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.”
Critics of unions are hopeful that the Court will rule in favor of Janus, especially with the new conservative-leaning judge Neil Gorush.
“The case is in many respects a rerun of 2016’s Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which the court deadlocked in a 4-4 vote after Justice Antonin Scalia’s untimely death. As it stands now, workers who don’t want to contribute to union politics must first refuse to join the union and then write an annual letter declaring themselves “objectors” to its political activities. The union then decides what percentage of the worker’s fees it spent on collective bargaining and what percentage on politics, and reimburses that worker for the latter. If a worker fails to write the annual letter — for any reason — he or she will pay for union politics,” writes the Press-Enterprise.
Due to previous court rulings, AFSCME seems confident that the Court will rule in favor of unions yet again.
“The merits of the case, and 40 years of Supreme Court precedent and sound law, are on our side,” said Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME.
"It is a defunding strategy," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, on Wednesday. "They want the economy to be further rigged in their favor."
But the attorneys arguing on Janus’ side have a few compelling arguments that are going to be hard to dispute.
“The problem, critics like Mr. Janus contend, is that collective bargaining with government is inherently political. Subjects of negotiation, such as wages and benefits, are ultimately political decisions about how much to compensate public servants. Therefore, the positions a union takes in collective bargaining are ultimately political positions. Forcing all workers to support them violates the rights of those who disagree,” writes the Press-Enterprise. “Another problem, as Justice Samuel Alito has pointed out, is that in the public sector, collective bargaining and political activity are both directed at the government, making it nearly impossible to draw a clear line between them. Even if a clear line could be drawn, money is fungible, which means that dollars designated for non-political purposes can free up other monies for political activity. In that light, forced fees always violate First Amendment prohibitions on compelled speech.”
The California Teachers Association, for example, spent $210 million on political campaigns between 2000 and 2010.
Without the agency fees, unions would have less money to spend on their political agenda, therefore less power. Workers will no longer be forced to pay for political causes they don’t support. This will evidently lead to less memberships.
“The point is, who decides whether the union is worthy of their support — the workers themselves or the state on their behalf?" says Jacob Huebert, director of litigation at the Liberty Justice Center, which is representing Janus. "The First Amendment should be a non-partisan issue.”
Janus is one of the many members across the U.S. fed up with their unions.
“This is not my father’s or my grandfather’s union," said Pam Harris of the Supreme Court 2014 Harris V. Quinn case. “This is a money-making scheme. It is a way to advance political agendas.”
Author’s note: Right now, there are millions of workers paying fees and supporting political cause they don’t approve of. With less funding, this would limit the tremendous political power unions have. Union fees are getting out of control and it’s time for unions to make some changes to recruit members on their own. They shouldn’t be able to also rely on funding from non-members.