The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday dealt a blow to worker rights, ruling 5-4 that public sector unions cannot collect so-called "fair share" fees that help unions represent all workers, including non-unionized ones.
The decision (pdf) "marks a victory in the decades long Republican campaign to undermine the labor movement," said Morris Pearl, chair of the Patriotic Millionaires. "Unfortunately though, it is a victory for everyone except the American worker. This is an assault on the labor movement, full stop, and should not be commemorated as anything less."
Among the labor leaders criticizing the decision was Lily Eskelsen García, president of teh National Education Association (NEA), who called it "a blatant slap in the face for educators, nurses, firefighters, police officers, and all public servants who make our communities strong and safe. We are living in a system that is rigged to benefit special interests and billionaires, all at the expense of working people. Those behind this case know that unions amplify workers' voices and transform their words into powerful and collective action."
Writing the majority opinion for Janus vs. AFSCME, Justice Samuel Alito described the requirement of fees that cover collective bargaining from workers who benefit from union representation as a violation of workers' First Amendment rights.
Reacting to the high court's decision, which overturns a 1977 court precedent set in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, AFSCME, the union being challenged in the case, said on Twitter that it "sends our economy in the wrong direction" and slammed the court for "sid[ing]with billionaires":
Breaking News: Supreme Court sides with billionaires in the Janus v. AFSCME case— AFSCME (@AFSCME) June 27, 2018
Say you’ll never allow the special interests behind this case bust your union: https://t.co/W1q4F4w7rN pic.twitter.com/vxbvqZAhk8
The #Janus decision sends our economy in the wrong direction. But it's also a rallying point. We call on elected leaders and candidates to do everything in their power to make it easier to unite in unions and build more power for all working people. https://t.co/sXz3lkCDvq #Union— AFSCME (@AFSCME) June 27, 2018
According to Celine McNicholas, director of labor law and policy at the Economic Policy Institute, "the Court elevated the objections of a minority over the democratically determined choices of the majority of workers and prohibited state and local government workers from negotiating collective bargaining agreements with fair share fee arrangements."
The impact of the ruling, she continued, is that "workers who wish to join in union will be forced to operate with fewer and fewer resources. This will lead to reduced power—at the bargaining table and in the political process. It will have profound implications for not just the 6.8 million state and local government workers covered by a union contract, but all 17.3 million state and local government workers and indeed for every working person throughout the country."
Justice Elena Kagan, in a dissenting opinion—which was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor—noted the "large-scale consequences" as well.
"Public employee unions will lose a secure source of financial support. State and local governments that thought fair-share provisions furthered their interests will need to find new ways of managing their work-forces. Across the country, the relationships of public employees and employers will alter in both predictable and wholly unexpected ways." Acknowledging the overturning of Abood, she said, "Rarely if ever has the court overruled a decision—let alone one of this import—with so little regard for the usual principles of stare decisis," referring to the doctrine of precedent.
She went on to accuse the conservative majority of overturning "Abood for no exceptional or special reason, but because it never liked the decision. It has overruled Abood because it wanted to."
But "maybe most alarming, the majority has chosen the winners by turning the First Amendment into a sword, and using it against workaday economic and regulatory policy," she wrote. "The First Amendment... was meant not to undermine but to protect democratic governance—including over the role of public-sector unions," she concluded.
"We are more resolved than ever to fight like hell to win for our members and the communities they care so much about."
—Lee Saunders, AFSCMEAFSCME, for its part, stressed that the case should serve as "a rallying point" for workers and union members nationwide.
"America needs unions now more than ever," said Lee Saunders, president, of the union. "We are more resolved than ever to fight like hell to win for our members and the communities they care so much about."
—Bonnie Castillo, NNUSPN documents first published by the Guardian last year included a fundraising letter from 2016 written by SPN president and CEO Tracie Sharp, which described the group's $8.39 million "Breakthrough 2016" campaign to advance the alliance's goals to "defund and defang" unions. Another document was a "State Workplace Freedom Toolkit" that presented "four policy prescription for effective union reform" and described "defensive and offense" approaches to its attack on unions.