Labor Rights

Supreme Court Rules Against Public Sector Unions

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against public-sector unions in Janus v AFSCME, deciding that unions can no longer collect fees from public employees who opt not to be union members yet are covered by and profit from all of the benefits that unions achieve. This ruling reversed precedent from the 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

In her dissent, Justice Kagan states this ruling “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.”

According to Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, “This is a civil rights and women’s rights issue that will impact some five million workers who live in the 22 states where all public employees currently pay union fees. This will especially impact Black women, who are disproportionately represented in public sector jobs.”

Once a majority of workers vote to be represented by a public sector union, the union must represent all workers, even non-union members. The fair share fees, therefore, prevent non-union members from receiving the benefits of the union’s collective bargaining process without contributing to the cost of providing those benefits. No fair share fees can be used for any other purpose, including political activities. According to labor rights advocates, overturning Abood weakens the ability of unions to negotiate fair pay and safe workplaces and could reduce union membership.

“This decision comes down as teachers across the country have walked-out of their classrooms, demanding livable wages and adequate resources for their students. Many of these teachers live in states that have already taken significant steps to weaken public sector unions. They are the canaries in the coal mines, but they are also the blueprints for how we move forward,” explains Smeal.

In February, teachers in West Virginia held a nine- day walkout, the longest teacher strike in the history of the state, to demand a pay increase for teachers. However, the walk-out in West Virginia was not an isolated incident. Over 50,000 teachers, staff, and supporters in Arizona participated in a rally at the state capitol building in April to demand higher wages and better funding for education. Teachers in Oklahoma also led a successful walkout to protest the lack of resources and funding for public schools, as well as the below average wages for teachers and support staff in the state, resulting in a $6,000 raise in salary for teachers and a $1,250 raise for support staff.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who took the seat after Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, has a history of siding with corporations and voted against worker’s rights in Wednesday’s ruling.

Media Resources: The Sacramento Bee, 6/27/2018; The New York Times, 6/27/2018; Feminist Majority Foundation; 6/27/2018; Feminist Newswire, 1/12/2016; The Feminist Newswire, 5/04/2018

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