The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Wednesday that non-union workers cannot be forced to pay fees to public sector unions.
"Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates that cardinal constitutional command, and in most contexts, any such effort would be universally condemned," wrote Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the court's opinion in the case, Janus v. AFSCME.
The case, one of the most hotly anticipated of the term, is the second in two days to hand a major victory to conservatives, following Tuesday's holding by the court that President Donald Trump's travel ban is constitutional.
Some experts have said that a holding in favor of Janus would be the most significant court decision affecting collective bargaining in decades.
Trump hailed the ruling immediately after it was handed down. In a post on Twitter, the president wrote that the decision was a "loss for the coffers of the Democrats."
And that of course is the real reason this case was decided as it was. Alito's opinion overturned the 1977 Abood vs Detroit Board of Education ruling that allowed public sector unions to exist in the first place. Now they are effectively subject to right-to-work laws and will be dismantled.
Organized-labor groups strongly disagree with Janus’s interpretation and opposed efforts to reconsider the 1977 precedent. Unions use the term “fair-share payments” because, they argue, the fees prevent non-members from free-riding on the collective-bargaining services from which they benefit. “At its core, Abood acknowledged that certain labor-relations interests justify the small intrusion on employees’ First Amendment interests that fair-share payments represent,” AFSCME Council 31 told the Court earlier this year.
If Janus prevails and Abood is overturned, the Court’s ruling could effectively act as a nationwide right-to-work law for the country’s public-sector workers, with potentially crushing implications for the funding and resources of the unions that represent them. AFSCME officials told Bloomberg that they estimated in 2015 that only about a third of the workers they represent would pay fees “no matter what,” and that about half were “on the fence” about it. In other words, if given the option to leave the union and avoid paying dues, many could take it and still be supported by collective-bargaining efforts.
“The Janus case is a blatantly political and well-funded plot to use the highest court in the land to further rig the economic rules against everyday working people,” Lee Saunders, the president of AFSCME, said in a statement. “The billionaire CEOs and corporate interests behind this case, and the politicians who do their bidding, have teamed up to deliver yet another attack on working people by striking at the freedom to come together in strong unions.”
The Court’s conservative members, led by Justice Samuel Alito, have also fired off signal flares on Abood in recent years. Writing for the majority in the 2012 case Knox v. Service Employees, Alito called the 1977 precedent “something of an anomaly” for its First Amendment implications. Two years later, in Harris v. Quinn, he criticized the Abood decision’s reasoning at length before concluding it was “questionable on several grounds.” The five-justice majority in Harris effectively telegraphed that they would be willing to overturn Abood in the future.
Today, that's exactly what happened. Public unions will be a thing of the past within a few short years now. State unions have been able to stay afloat because of dues collected in strongly unionized states to keep coffers full for national unions, but now that's done for. Alito's ruling ends that practice, and national unions and labor groups are going to be broke within a couple of years.
And of course, this means unions won't have money to donate to pro-union Democrats, either.
Which is the point. There's no way Democrats will be able to stay on the same playing field as Republicans in donations thanks to this ruling, and both sides know it.
Democrats are in mortal trouble heading into 2020 and beyond.
Again, this is the point. Don't expect the courts to save us from the party of Trump. We have to choose to save ourselves, and we're almost out of time.