In the News: Supreme Court Poised to Deal a Sharp Blow to Unions for Teachers and Public Employees

The Supreme Court announced Thursday that it will hear a case involving the agency fees that teachers and other public employees are required to pay to unions even if they choose not to join the unions.

As David Savage explains in the L.A. Times:

The Supreme Court is poised to deal a sharp blow to the unions that represent millions of teachers and other public employees, announcing Thursday it will consider striking down the mandatory fees that support collective bargaining.

The justices will hear the case of Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee who objects to paying fees to the union, which represents 35,000 state workers.

The decision, due by next June, could prove a costly setback for public-sector unions in 22 states, including California, where such fees are authorized by law. Labor experts have predicted a significant percentage of employees would stop supporting their union if given a choice.

In “Agency Fees Could Be Back on Death Row,” published this summer, Josh Dunn explained the actions that led to this moment.

Before Justice Scalia passed away in February of 2016, the Supreme Court was set to strike down “agency fees,” which allow public sector unions to force non-members to pay for the collective bargaining efforts of the union… But Scalia’s death led the Supreme Court to grant agency fees a stay of execution, with a 4-4 decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association…With Trump’s victory and successful nomination of Neil Gorsuch, agency fees could soon be facing the Supreme Court firing squad once again. On Tuesday, Mark Janus, a child support specialist from Illinois, asked the Supreme Court to hear his case, Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees). As a state employee he is compelled to pay union dues even though he says it doesn’t “do a good job representing my interests.” Why, he asks, should he be compelled to speak on behalf of causes that he does not support? Surely the First Amendment protects against coerced speech.

In “Teachers Unions at Risk of Losing ‘Agency Fees,’” Mike Antonucci analyzes the legal and policy issues surrounding agency fees at greater length.

In the 2017 Education Next poll, respondents were asked about agency fees.

Forty-four percent of respondents oppose the practice of requiring teachers to pay fees to unions they choose not to join, while just 37% support the practice, much the same as a year ago. More surprising, perhaps, is the fact that teachers themselves are also more likely to oppose agency fees than to support them, by a narrow 47%–44% margin. Despite holding positive views of union influence, then, many teachers apparently think that they should be able to decide whether or not to contribute money to support union activities at the bargaining table.

— Education Next

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