The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the Janus v. AFSCME case finds that requiring nonmembers of public-sector unions to pay “fair share fees” is a First Amendment violation. In the 22 states (including Washington) that are not “right to work” states, unions are allowed to collect fees from nonmembers to cover costs related to the collective bargaining process and matters affecting wages and hours. With the Supreme Court’s ruling, public unions will no longer have that authority as it is deemed a violation of free-speech rights.
The decision will have major repercussions for workers and unions in Washington and across the country. In response to the news, lawmakers, unions, and organizations are speaking out.
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Greg Devereux, Executive Director of the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE), released a statement condemning the ruling and vowing to continue to fight for unions. WFSE is the state’s largest union of state employees, representing approximately 42,000 state and public workers.
“This ruling isn’t just an attack on union workers,” said Devereux, “it’s an attack on the freedom of all working people to come together to improve their lives, their workplaces and their communities. The people behind this case want to divide working people and limit our power in numbers because they want to weaken our ability to win fair wages, affordable healthcare and retirement security.”
Governor Inslee and Attorney General Ferguson also released a statement on the decision:
“Once again, this conservative-majority court sided with anti-worker forces and issued a ruling designed to undermine public sector unions… By compromising the ability of law enforcement, sanitation workers, educators and other public employees to collectively organize, this court and these special interests are taking us backwards to a time when workers had to resort to enormously disruptive strikes and walk-outs in order to make their voices heard.”
Senator Mark Schoesler, however, said the decision sets the stage for new reform and protections for public-sector union members.
“This case was never about the labor unions that look out for the interests of a huge number of people in our state’s private sector, including the many skilled workers in aerospace, other manufacturing sectors and the building trades. It was always about the unions that cater primarily or exclusively to state workers and other public employees, and whether those employees get to decide how many of the taxpayer dollars they receive as wages end up being funneled into the unions’ bank accounts.”
“The ruling in the Janus case doesn’t change the fact that public employees in Washington lost ground this year to the unions. This coming year we may see some legislative proposals to address those setbacks and protect public-sector union members in ways that their counterparts in the private sector already enjoy.”
The Freedom Foundation, a conservative think-tank that has long fought to limit the influence of unions, released a statement praising the ruling. Freedom Foundation CEO Tom McCabe, writes,
“Nothing in this decision prevents workers from organizing or bargaining collectively if they choose to. It simply allows them to keep their jobs if they don’t. From now on, instead of just being handed someone else’s money, the unions will have to earn it. If they can’t survive without a government-enforced monopoly, they have only themselves to blame.”
Senator Steve O’Ban also supports the court’s ruling and says it likely makes HB 2751, a bill passed during the 2018 session, illegal.
“The Janus ruling almost certainly means that HB 2751 violates the United States Constitution. HB 2751 was legislation promoted by public-sector unions and enacted earlier this year largely along party lines. HB 2751 presumes new employees and nonmember employees agree to pay dues and fees to the union. The court’s decision states that employees must ‘clearly and affirmatively consent’ before any money may be taken from them by the union. Based on that reasoning, HB 2751 is unconstitutional.”
The lead plaintiff in the case, Mark Janus, recently spoke at the Washington Policy Center’s Solutions Summit a few weeks prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling. For additional background on the Janus v. AFSCME case, our coverage of the event and Janus’s comments can be found here.