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Court Ruling Could Crush Union

A lawsuit pits an employee’s freedom to choose versus a union's right to fair share fees.

Here in Wisconsin we’re no stranger to issues associated with public sector unions. However, our neighbors to the south are on the brink of a ruling that could have far-reaching implications related to the strength of unions in all sectors of the workforce, including manufacturing. 

First, if you haven’t heard of Mark Janus, he works for the State of Illinois. As such, he’s required to pay union dues even though he was never given the option to actually join the union for public sector employees. That led Janus to file a lawsuit against the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which is the largest trade union of public employees in the United States.

His suit, which should get a ruling from the Supreme Court next month, states that he should be released from paying mandatory union dues. Basically, he feels his constitutional right to make his own decision regarding union participation is being stripped from him. 

The general consensus is that the court is, at a minimum, sympathetic to Janus’ argument. This has union officials bracing for a ruling that could dramatically impact the revenue it depends on for a number of initiatives, including political donations. 

As reported by Reason.com, the Illinois Economic Policy Institute recently unveiled findings that show as many as 726,000 public sector workers would stop paying AFSCME dues if they were given the option. This is about 45 percent of their total membership. The biggest hits could be seen in California, New York and Illinois – states that have voted Democrat in each of the last four Presidential elections. Fewer members could mean less membership-sourced revenue to help support political candidates. 

The unions point to a Supreme Court ruling in 1977, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that upheld mandatory union fees on the grounds that non-payers would become "free riders" who could benefit from collective bargaining activities without contributing to the costs.

Essentially, it will come down to the court’s interpretation of an employee’s freedom to choose versus a labor organization’s right to “fair share fees”. Bigger picture – many feel a ruling in Janus’ favor could strike a significant blow to the power of organized labor throughout the country.

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