Will SCOTUS ruling on union fees impact higher education?
- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a 5-4 decision on the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 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," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority.
- The decision means public sector unions could stand to lose tens of millions of dollars and become less effective in promoting rights like collective bargaining, reports the New York Times. Joseph McCartin, executive director of Georgetown University's Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, told Education Dive that the decision will affect public colleges and universities with unions in the 22 states that allow unions to collectively bargain "by shaping what they are allowed to do and substantially attacking their financial security and ability to fund their work."
- Throughout higher education, McCartin said the ruling will "mean that professors, graduate employees and staff are going to have much less say in how their institutions are run and how resources are allocated. And, it will further weaken the ability of those groups of workers to advocate for public support of higher education, opening the door to those who would prefer to privatize education further to get more of a say."
The Supreme Court decided that collection of union fees, which helps workers collectively bargain for certain rights, is a violation of First Amendment rights because employees must give money to unions that may support causes they may not advocate for, an understanding that dissenting Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote uses the First Amendment in "an aggressive way."
The case is one the education sector has been following closely, and teacher unions have been preparing for defeat. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said as part of a joint statement with the National Education Association, AFSME and the Service Employees International Union that the decision signaled a "warping and weaponizing of the First Amendment, absent any evidence or reason, to hurt working people," as the decision means unions could lose significant portions of their members and funds necessary to operate.
McCartin noted, however, that the ruling will not just impact public sector unions, and there will be a trickle down to the effectiveness of private sector unions, which means colleges and universities will be impacted, particularly as more institutions, including Georgetown University, are seeing efforts by graduate students to unionize and some, including Vanderbilt University, have adjunct instructors trying to form unions as well.
Even private institutions will see the long-term effects of the ruling, McCartin said. "By weakening public sector unions, workers in the private sector will be further weakened as well. The union that organized workers here [at Georgetown] are going to be devastated economically, because it has a large public sector membership. So, their ability to organize is going to be hampered by the loss of funds," he said. "At Georgetown there's an effort to organize graduate employees that's affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers — they are going to be hit hard."
And, from a public perception perspective, McCartin added that the inability to provide student workers or adjunct faculty members with opportunities to better their working rights sends a signal that could impact how colleges are able to attract the growing number of politically minded students. The situation calls into question how leaders may want enact policies that might better protect campus community members' labor rights.
"Young people today under 30 have the highest opinion of unions and union rights," he sad. "They are the people you want to attract to the college both as graduate students and undergraduate students, but they are more likely to want to go to places where they feel are in agreement with their values."
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