Labor leaders blast Supreme Court for ‘politically motivated’ decision

Stephon Johnson | 7/12/2018, 12:41 p.m.

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a major blow to public sector unions on Wednesday. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court turned public sector employment into a “right to work” venture, ruling that non-public sector union members aren’t compelled to pay dues to the union that represents them at the bargaining table.

The Court also ruled that union fees must be opt-in for employees and not opt-out, which makes it harder for unions to collect fees. Non-union members already can opt out of fees used to finance political organizing, but now they can opt out of fees used to pay for the cost of collective bargaining and representing workers.

“This procedure violates the First Amendment and cannot continue,” read the majority decision written by Justice Samuel Alito. “Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay. By agreeing to pay, nonmembers are violating their First Amendment rights, and such a waiver cannot be presumed.”

The Court’s decision will affect, in particular, 22 union stronghold states such as New York, California and Illinois.

Labor leaders were quick to denounce the court’s decision.

“As millions of American workers recommit to their unions and launch new organizing drives and as support for labor unions has risen to its highest level in years, it is shameful that the billionaire CEOs and corporate special interests behind this case have succeeded in manipulating the highest court in the land to do their bidding,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in a statement. “This case was nothing more than a blatant political attack to further rig our economy and democracy against everyday Americans in favor of the wealthy and powerful.”

“This decision is yet another example of how billionaires rig the system against working people, but SEIU members won’t let the extremists behind this case divide us,” added 32BJ SEIU President Héctor Figueroa in a statement. “We will stay united, help working men and women who are fighting to form unions and call on our elected leaders to do everything in their power to make it easier for working people to join together in unions.”

The Janus v. AFSCME case involved plaintiff Mark Janus pushing back against having to pay union dues for public-sector unions citing the First Amendment. Up until this week, all union-represented public sector workers had to pay dues even if they didn’t want to join the union because the union negotiates salaries and benefits for all employees. The National Right to Work Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center (the Illinois Policy Institute’s litigation wing) bankrolled the case, hoping to smash government unions.

In a statement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the Supreme Court “conceded to the dark web of corporations and wealthy donors who wish to take away the freedoms of working people.”

“Until it is overturned, this decision will be a political stain on what is intended to be the most honorable, independent body in the world,” continued Trumka. “But more importantly, it will further empower the corporate elites in their efforts to thwart the aspirations of millions of working people standing together for a better life.”