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In Landmark Decision, U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Mandatory Union Fees

July 19, 2018

On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 that government employees represented by a union but who are not members cannot be compelled to pay “agency” fees to the union. The Court concluded that requiring nonmembers of the union to pay these fees violated the First Amendment free speech rights of those nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern. The 5-4 decision overruled a 1977 decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which permitted unions to charge fees to nonmembers for collective-bargaining purposes, but not to fund unions’ political and ideological projects.  Justice Samuel Alito authored Janus’s majority opinion.

In Janus, the petitioner worked as a child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, which was unionized.  Mr. Janus refused to join the union because he opposed many of its public policy positions, including its positions on collective bargaining.  Mr. Janus later sued the union challenging the constitutionality of the union’s nonmember fees (as facilitated by the State of Illinois); this challenge was dismissed by federal district and appellate courts before the Supreme Court granted review.