The Supreme Court case that could kneecap public sector unions, explained


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Janus v. AFSCME, explained.

2018 has generally been a good year for labor activists working in the public sector. A wave of teachers strikes in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Colorado has led to pay raises even in red states with Republican governors where teachers can’t collectively bargain. The strikes seem to suggest that public sector labor organizing, and labor unions, could be revitalized.

Except the Supreme Court could be preparing to deal public sector unions a devastating blow. The Court is expected to soon deliver its ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, a case challenging the practice of public sector unions charging “agency fees” to employees who decline to join the union but who still benefit from the deals it bargains. The fees are typically similar to, but a bit lower than, union dues.

Twenty-eight states have “right to work” laws banning agency fees. Such laws create a free-rider problem: People don’t have to join unions or pay agency fees to get the unions’ benefits, so the unions lose members and political influence. The 22 states that don’t have these laws include heavily populated ones like California, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio; those five states on their own account for nearly half of America’s total union members.

The plaintiffs in Janus argue that agency fees, for government employees, are a First Amendment violation. After all, unions are political actors, and by allowing unions to charge agency fees, state governments are effectively compelling employees to financially support a political organization that they may or may not agree with. That, the plaintiffs claim, is compelled speech and thus unconstitutional. Unions, by contrast, view the practice as necessary if they are to survive at all, and as valid as …read more

Source:: Vox – All

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