Unions' 'agency' fees violate 1st Amendment, U.S. Supreme Court rules
- As expected, the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in favor of an Illinois child support specialist who said he should not have to pay fees to a union he didn’t join.
- In a 5-4 decision, with Justice Samuel Alito writing for the majority, the opinion in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), stated that "States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees. The First Amendment is violated when money is taken from nonconsenting employees for a public-sector union; employees must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them."
- In the case, argued Feb. 26, Mark Janus said that being required to pay the fees is a violation of his First Amendment rights because the fees support the union's position on various policies. “The union voice is not my voice. The union's fight is not my fight,” he wrote in this 2016 op-ed.
Teachers unions have been bracing for defeat for months, and arguing that the Janus case is just the public face of an effort financed by conservative foundations to weaken the unions. Last month in Los Angeles, Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association (NEA), said that a decision in favor of Janus would mean unions would be left with less money to do the same work, including negotiating contracts for all teacher — whether or not they are union members — and defending teachers involved in conflicts with management.
The three million-member NEA — the largest union in the nation — has been working hard to communicate to members what the union does for them, García told journalists recently at the annual meeting of the Education Writers Association (EWA). “We’re not going anywhere, but it is going to be difficult,” she said. She described the case as much more than an effort to stop agency fees, calling it an effort "to get our members to drop their membership” and “keep the megaphone as small as possible.”
Regardless of how the court ruled, Julia Koppich, a consultant and researcher who studies teachers’ unions, said during the EWA meeting that teachers unions should take “a fresh look at what their current members want.”
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