On February 26, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, a case which should be watched by public employers and union officials as the fate of agency fees hangs in the balance. Agency fees are paid by non-union members to compensate the union for its services such as negotiating contracts and grievance representation. In this case, an employee claimed the union’s requirement that he pay an agency fee was unconstitutional as it violated his rights of freedom of speech because he disagreed with the union’s political message.
Agency fees have been found to be constitutional since the Supreme Court’s 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. The Supreme Court took up the issue of agency fees again in 2016 in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which, with the passing of Justice Scalia, resulted in a 4-4 tie. This time, the Court will have a new justice in Neil Gorsuch, who was appointed by President Trump in 2017.
The ramifications of a decision in favor of Janus has unions nervous since a decision prohibiting their ability to collect agency fees from persons who do not join the union would affect their ability to maintain staff and officers, as well as negatively impact their lobbying efforts.
We will be sure to keep you posted on this case and others.