The U-S Supreme Court dealt a blow to public sector unions today. Their ruling makes a first amendment case for employees to opt-out of union dues.
The lead plaintiff on the case is a child support specialist with the state of Illinois: Mark Janus. Janus’s attorneys argued being required to pay union dues violated his right to free speech.
The 5 conservatively leaning justices in the majority say even if union dues aren’t going to expressly political purposes, requiring people to pay them goes against the first amendment.
But critics say that since unions represent – and negotiate contracts for – all employees at a workplace — members or not — not paying dues is a free ride.
U.S. Representative Mark Pocan of Black Earth is disappointed with today’s ruling.
“This is a real blow to working families,” Pocan says.
The decision this morning overturns a 1970s Supreme Court ruling that confirmed agency fees for unions were constitutional.
Other Democrats in the U.S. House of Representative also called out what they see as exacerbating a free-rider problem with unions. That includes Representative Donald Norcross from New Jersey.
“A divided court made the decision that there is such a thing as a free lunch,” Norcross says. “If the court’s decision on Janus was applied to the U.S. government, we would have people that wouldn’t pay taxes, but still enjoy the national defense budget, public safety.”
Pocan says Wisconsin is no stranger to efforts to weaken unions. In 2011, Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial Act 10 took away collective bargaining rights for most public-sector unions and let state and county workers at unionized offices opt out of paying dues. In 2015, Wisconsin became a “right to work” state which lets workers at private companies that are unionized opt out of paying union dues.
Michael Horecki of AFSCME Wisconsin says that though today’s Supreme Court ruling doesn’t apply to Wisconsin workers, he thinks it will motivate union organizing.
“This law does not kick anybody out of the union,” Horecki says. “It just gives anybody the option to quit, so that means that we have the opportunity to have conversations.”
Horecki says that, unlike in Wisconsin, many public workers across the country still retain the right to bargain over benefits and working conditions.