SCOTUS Hits Unions With Janus v. AFSCME Ruling

In a massive blow to American labor unions, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled Wednesday that government workers cannot be forced to join a union or be compelled to pay for the cost of collective bargaining.

The stunning 5-4 decision came in the case of Janus vs. AFSCME. The Court found that Illinois state worker Mark Janus’ First Amendment rights to free speech were violated via a $45 monthly paycheck deduction for union fees.

Wednesday’s ruling reverses a 41-year-old decision by the Supreme Court and could have major implications for organized labor strongholds like California. Lawmakers are already proposing legislation to blunt the effects of the decision.

“Compelling a person to subsidize the speech of other private speakers raises similar First Amendment concerns,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the Court’s majority opinion. “As Jefferson famously put it, ‘to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhor[s] is sinful and tyrannical…’ We have therefore recognized that a ‘significant impingement on First Amendment rights’ occurs when public employees are required to provide financial support for a union that ‘takes many positions during collective bargaining that have powerful political and civic consequences.’”

In her dissent, Elena Kagan, implied the Court was taking a dangerous road by abandoning its traditional deference to legal precedent.

“There is no sugarcoating today’s opinion,” Kagan wrote. “The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this Nation’s law— and in its economic life—for over 40 years. As a result, it prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance. And it does so by weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.”

Several elected officials and organizations, especially labor groups, have been speaking out on the decision, with varying opinions. Unsurprisingly, The California Labor Federation, California Professional Firefighters, and several top ranking Democrats oppose the ruling.

But as Will Swaim, president of The California Policy Center, notes in an op-ed for The Sacramento Bee, “people who work for state and local governments may still join a union, can still bargain collectively, can still financially contribute to a union. The only difference now is that they don’t have to.”

Additionally, Kerry Jackson, fellow with Pacific Research Institute's Center for California Reform, issued the following statement in favor of the ruling, citing the importance of an employee’s First Amendment right to free speech.

“Today’s landmark ruling restores a freedom that should have never been allowed to be taken from workers — the freedom to not be forced to fund political activity they don’t agree with. Public employee unions can no longer require workers to support interests they feel conflict with their own.  While unions and their allies are already rushing to change state law to blunt today’s victory for worker freedom, the Janus decision may finally break the logjam holding up the passage of badly-needed fiscal reforms.”


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