Supreme Court Case Against Forced AFSCME Union Dues Moves Forward

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Attorneys for the Illinois Child Support Specialist who is suing his own union, AFSCME, have filed their first brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case which could potentially significantly change the relationship between state government and public employee unions.

In Janus vs. AFSCME, which will be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court’s next term, Mark Janus claims that he opposes many of the positions for which his union advocates and therefore does not wish to be forced to pay for union representation he does not want.  AFSCME argues that Janus benefits from their negotiations on behalf of all state workers they represent and therefore should be forced to pay union dues.

The case’s repercussions could be significant for the power of public employee unions nationwide, not just in Illinois.  Should the Supreme Court side with Janus, the impact would likely be to significantly weaken the finances of public employee unions since potentially millions of government workers could opt-out of paying union dues, especially if they personally disagree with the union’s political activities..

“Forced union fees remain the largest regime of compelled speech in the nation,” said Mark Mix, President of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in a statement.  “… we are hopeful that in the coming months the Supreme Court will correct this anomaly in First Amendment jurisprudence by striking down all mandatory union payments for public workers.”

AFSCME says however that all public employees will be hurt if the Supreme Court sides with Janus.  “When working people are able to join strong unions, they have the strength in numbers they need to fight for the freedoms they deserve, like access to quality health care, retirement security and time off work to care for a loved one,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders in a statement when the Supreme Court decided to take up the case.

There is a political element to the case.  Janus is being represented by attorneys provided by conservative groups who feel public employee unions have become too powerful in electing more liberal public officials.  Those officials in turn they say are more likely to grant wage and benefit concessions to the union in return for its continued political support. 

AFSCME has been especially combative with Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has attempted to limit pay and benefit increases among other changes for workers represented by the union while the state grapples with a financial crisis.  AFSCME contends the governor has not negotiated in good faith, leading to Gov. Rauner declaring an impasse which is being challenged in court, and the union authorizing a strike.

The current makeup of the court also appears to favor Janus over AFSCME, especially with the confirmation earlier this year of conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch.  However, AFSCME can claim that past rulings by the high court better support their position.

Oral arguments are expected to be held in February.

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