Thursday, September 28, 2017
The Court today agreed to take up a First Amendment challenge to a public sector union fair-share law in Janus v. AFSCME. The case pits non-members' First Amendment right not to pay dues for a union's collective bargaining activities (even if they benefit from those activities) against a union's interest in collecting dues for its collective bargaining efforts that everyone benefits from in a union shop.
This isn't the first time the Court has considered the issue, not by a long shot. The Court originally upheld fair-share laws--state requirements that non-members pay union dues for collective bargaining (but not for a union's political activities)--in 1977 in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. In that case, the Court held that a state's interests in avoiding non-union-member free-riders and labor harmony permitted a state to require non-members to pay a "fair share" of a union's collective bargaining activities. (Under federal law, the union has to represent even non-members in a union shop.)
But more recently, the Court has hinted in a couple of cases that it's ready to reconsider Abood and overturn fair share laws under the First Amendment. A case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, was teed up for just such a ruling when Justice Scalia passed away. When the 8-member Court decided Friedrichs, it deadlocked, leaving a Ninth Circuit ruling upholding fair share in place.
At the time, Senator Mitch McConnell was refusing to give Judge Garland, President Obama's nominee to replace Justice Scalia, a hearing in the Senate. McConnell famously waited President Obama's term out, and the Senate then confirmed President Trump's nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
With Justice Gorsuch on board, the Court now agreed to hear another case testing fair share, Janus. And that doesn't bode well for fair share laws and public sector unions. If Justice Gorsuch votes with the conservatives (who all presumably would have voted against fair share in Friedrichs), as seems likely or even certain, it'll mark the end of fair share and the likely demise of public sector unions. That's because if the Court strikes fair share, non-members in a union shop will have no requirements and few incentives to pay for the union's collective bargaining activities that benefit them. And without a requirement or incentive to pay fair share, many won't. And seeing that non-members can free ride on the union (because even non-members benefit from a union's collective bargaining activities), members will likely drop out to free ride, too. The siphoning of dues-paying non-members and members will leave the union with less and less resources to support collective bargaining, potentially decimating public sector unions.
There's no guarantee, of course, that a Justice Garland, or any other Obama appointee, would have voted to uphold fair share laws. But with Justice Gorsuch filling Justice Scalia's seat, we can all but guarantee that fair share will go away.