Supreme Court Deals Big Setback to Labor Unions

Baihly Warfield
Updated: June 27, 2018 10:23 PM

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court says government workers can't be forced to contribute to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining, dealing a serious financial blow to organized labor.


The justices are scrapping a 41-year-old decision that had allowed states to require that public employees pay some fees to unions that represent them, even if the workers choose not to join.

The 5-4 decision Wednesday fulfills a longtime wish of conservatives to get rid of the so-called fair share fees that non-members pay to unions in roughly two dozen states.

UWS Associate Professor Alisa Von Hagel said that it is a significant decision for a number of reasons. 

"The Supreme Court doesn't often overturn precedents like that they've made in the past," she said. 

According to Von Hagel, not only will it be a legal transition but also an economic one as cities, counties and states decide what to do with negotiated contracts.

"That in and of itself is going to be a huge monster, really, to deal with over the next couple of months in terms of the contracts that have been already made and what will happen in the future," Von Hagel said. 

For many Republicans, Von Hagel said the decision is perceived as a victory because unions are generally seen as Democratic organizations.

"It's seen as by forcing people to join these unions, they are not allowed to really have their First Amendment rights fully," she explained, "because they're being required to support this organization that is, in effect, seen as being democratic or leaning democratic."

It will likely be a financial blow to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, so Von Hagel think it may adjust how those unions operate. 

"What we see is that the unions switch or they shift their focus moreso to lobbying, to candidates and to campaigning," Von Hagel said. 

As far as claims that the Supreme Court has become a partisan body, Von Hagel said that is not new rhetoric. 

"Even though the court is supposed to be impartial, unbiased interpretors of the law, I mean, they're simply human beings that do have political beliefs and attitudes," she said.

Local Reaction

Statements and opinions came in quickly from local candidates and elected officials. 

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton called the decision "appalling." 

"The benefits provided by a union to employees who elect not to join it are erroneous. They receive the same better wages, safer working conditions, and stronger job protections as do union members," Dayton wrote. "It is only fair that they should share in paying for the benefits that they receive." 

Candidates for the 8th congressional district also weighed in. 

DFLer Joe Radinovich said the ruling is a disastrous blow. 

"This decision is a blatant attack on working people - teachers, nurses, firefighters and police officers," Radinovich said in a press release. "It only serves to rig the system further in favor of the wealthy elite and corporate special interests."

Kirsten Kennedy (DFL) tweeted, "Let me be clear: no court will ever stop working people from joining together in #union. I will stand with you." 

State Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia) said on Twitter, "The Republicans and their stolen Supreme Court seat are proving once again that their priorities are with corporations and not working families. Unions built the middle class in this country, and I stand with my union brothers and sisters." 

Michelle Lee sent a statement, which said she is "very concerned" about the Janus ruling. 

"History has shown us, without the strength of a union, the individual worker is powerless against corporate interests. In these times...our country should be focused on supporting working people, not abandoning them," Lee wrote.

Harry Welty, who is running against Pete Stauber as a Republican, also expressed disappointment in the decision.

"It violates fair play and past compromises and demonstrates that the Republican Party has succeeded in making the Supreme Court a partisan branch of the federal government," Welty wrote in an email.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Baihly Warfield

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