June 27, 2018

U.S. Supreme Court strikes blow against public sector unions

Laura Paskus

The U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that public sector labor unions can no longer mandate fees from the workers they represent.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Mark Janus, an Illinois man who argued he should not be required to pay fees for contract negotiations between the union and his employer.

In New Mexico, the debate over mandatory union fees goes back decades, but has seen a resurgence in the past few years when Republicans began trying to pass right-to-work laws, or laws banning union fees as a term of employment. More recently, Americans for Prosperity New Mexico (AFP-NM) began lobbying counties to pass right-to-work laws in the private sector. With this ruling, public sector labor unions must immediately stop collecting fees beyond dues which are paid by members who voluntarily join.

Carter Bundy, the legislative director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council, said the high court’s majority “completely failed” in their decision. Bundy added that the decision also presents an opportunity for union members and supporters to rally together for a stronger union.

“Sometimes the best action comes when you’re backed against the wall,” Bundy said.

Many union opponents argue that unions use mandatory fees to pay for political causes that employees may not agree with.

AFP-NM State Director Burly Cain said the decision was a win for employees.

“Forcing public workers to fund political activity to keep a job and support their family is not just unfair but also a violation of the bedrock principles enshrined in the Constitution,” Cain said in a statement.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the court’s opinion and said mandatory union fees violates workers’ constitutional rights when unions use those fees to support political candidates or causes.

“As illustrated by the record in this case, unions charge nonmembers, not just for the cost of collective bargaining per se, but also for many other supposedly connected activities,” he wrote.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the dissenting opinion and argued that the Supreme Court already ruled against union fees going towards political causes. Kagan also wrote that the decision will have “large-scale consequences.”

“Public employee unions will lose a secure source of financial support. State and local governments that thought fair-share provisions furthered their interests will need to find new ways of managing their workforces,” Kagan wrote. “Across the country, the relationships of public employees and employers will alter in both predictable and wholly unexpected ways.”

The Supreme Court Decision does not affect private sector unions.

Four New Mexico counties have passed local right-to-work laws and there is a pending case in federal court regarding whether local municipalities can pass such laws.