The Supreme Court delivered a major blow to public-sector unions Wednesday, ruling that they cannot force government workers to join or financially support them.
The 5-4 ruling in the case, called, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, by the court’s conservative wing overturned a four-decade-old precedent and affects about seven million people.
Union leaders expect the ruling to result in major membership losses and drained treasuries as workers, who previously had no choice, start opting out of being involved with unions.
Public-sector unions account for about half of the nation’s 14 million union members, so the blow is expected to ripple through the union movement as a whole. The case also raises the possibility that the court will extend the same logic to private-sector unions in a future case, compounding the impact.
Plaintiff Mark Janus said he was elated with the ruling. “I’m thrilled that the Supreme Court has restored not only my First Amendment rights, but the rights of millions of other government workers across the country. So many of us have been forced to pay for political speech and policy positions with which we disagree, just so we can keep our jobs. This is a victory for all of us. My right to say ‘no’ is at least as important as my right to say ‘yes,’” he said.
The case involved whether the union violated the First Amendment rights of Janus, an Illinois state government employee, by forcing him to pay a regular fee to his workplace’s union even though he declined to become a member. The state automatically deducted $50 from Janus’ paychecks and forwarded the money to AFSCME Council 31, costing him $600 annually. Janus sued, arguing he didn’t believe he benefited from the union’s efforts and shouldn’t be forced to subsidize an organization he didn’t agree with.
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