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Supreme Court Deals Severe Blow to Public Unions

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that no government employee can be fired for refusing to financially support a union. The decision frees workers who do not wish to join a union from being forced to pay the union nevertheless. This will likely spark a massive exodus from the ranks of public sector unions, weakening the Democratic Party.

"States and public-sector unions may no longer exact agency fees from nonconsenting employees," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the 5-4 decision. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch joined in his opinion. Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a dissent, and Justice Elena Kagan filed a separate dissent, in which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Bryer, and Sotomayor joined.

"Under Illinois law, if a public-sector collective-bargaining agreement includes an agency-fee provision and the union certifies to the employer the amount of the fee, that amount is automatically deducted from the non-member's wages. No form of employee consent is required," Alito explained. "This procedure violates the First Amendment and can not continue."

"Forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable is always demeaning," Alito wrote. "Compelling a person to subsidize the speech of other private speakers raises similar First Amendment concerns."

President Donald Trump celebrated the victory.

Janus settled the issue in the 2016 case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in which the Court deadlocked at 4-4.

The case involved Mark Janus, an Illinois child support staffer who refused to join the local union, AFSCME Council 31. Despite refusing to join the union, he is still required to pay "agency fees" — a large portion of union dues — on the theory that since he benefits from the union's bargaining, he must be forced to support the organization.

Janus objected, saying he did not want to support the union financially. He was "forced to support a government union as a condition of employment," and argued that "this is a gross violation of my First Amendment Rights to free speech and freedom of association."

The American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) argued that if the Supreme Court honored Janus' objection, it would "take away the freedom of working people to join together in strong unions to speak up for themselves and their communities." This case "aims to erode the freedom to form unions to improve our lives and the communities we serve."