The U.S. Supreme Court announced Sept. 28 that it will hear Janus v. AFSCME, a case challenging the constitutionality of any requirement that public employees pay dues or fees to the unions that represent them.
The case gets its name from Mark Janus, an Illinois state worker represented by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Like Oregon, Washington, and 19 other states that recognize public employees’ right to collective bargaining, Illinois doesn’t require represented workers to join the union, but it requires non-members to pay “fair share” fees to the union to cover the costs of negotiating and enforcing the union contract. Janus objects to that requirement. With attorneys from the anti-union National Right to Work Foundation, he filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the fair share requirement violates his First Amendment rights.
Forty years ago, the Supreme Court settled that question in a case called Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education, ruling unanimously that such fees were reasonable and constitutional. But today’s Supreme Court is expected to reverse the Abood decision, most likely in a 5-4 vote. The court split 4-4 last year on a similar case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, after conservative judge Antonin Scalia died. The case is likely to be argued early next year.
Reversing Abood would be like passing a “right to work” law for all public employees nationwide: It would be a severe blow to public sector unions and the labor movement as a whole.