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Supreme Court Decision Delivers a Sharp Blow Public Sector Unions

Public Employees Have The Right To Refrain From Union Membership and Compelled Union Dues

What Happened?

A narrow decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday left public sector unions reeling after the court ruled state government workers cannot be forced to pay to support collective bargaining and other union backed activities. The ruling in Janus v. AFSCME provides that public sector unions cannot require employees to pay dues and fees associated with the negotiation of labor agreements and administration of grievances under such agreements, although those employees will be covered by the bargaining agreement.

What Does This Mean?

In a 5-4 ruling split evenly along party lines, SCOTUS supported the right of public sector employees to abstain from union membership and compulsory dues payment.  The ruling in Janus v. AFSCME provides that public sector unions cannot require employees to pay dues and fees associated with the negotiation of labor agreements and administration of grievances under such agreements, although those employees will be covered by the bargaining agreement.  Public sector employers have been a final stronghold of the American labor movement.  While only 6.5% of private sector employees are unionized, unionization of public sector employees is currently 34.4%.  To put public sector’s union activities into context, of the $64.6 million spent by these unions during the 2016 election cycle, 90% of those funds went to Democratic candidates.

Public sector unions took a significant hit with this decision.  Losing funding will, over time, inhibit their ability to operate both on a local and national level, through bargaining and political initiatives.  Only time will tell the total number of public sector employees who request to no longer have union dues withdrawn from their paychecks.

Who Does This Effect?

This decision applies only to public sector unions, but its effects could threaten the entire labor movement at a time when union membership is declining. Public employers should remain cognizant of notifications they receive from their employees expressing their desire to no longer have union dues withheld. Depending on the circumstances, the employer may be obligated to immediately cease payments to the union on those employees’ behalf.

While we field questions about union-related issues a lot, especially those pertaining to their employee benefits.  We highly recommend consulting a Labor & Employment Attorney if you have questions regarding unions.