U.s. Supreme Court Delivers Blow to Organized Labor in Fees Dispute


The U.S. Supreme Court on June 27 dealt a blow to organized labor, ruling that non-members cannot be forced in certain states to pay fees to unions representing public employees such as teachers and police, shutting off a key union revenue source.

On a 5-4 vote powered by the court's conservative majority, the justices overturned a 1977 Supreme Court precedent that had allowed the so-called agency fees that are collected from millions of non-union workers in lieu of union dues to fund non-political activities like collective bargaining.

The ruling means that the estimated 5 million non-union workers who pay these fees will no longer have to do so. The court ruled that forcing non-members to pay agency fees to unions whose views they may oppose violates their rights to free speech and free association under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

Two dozen states require agency fees, and an estimated 5 million non-union workers for state and local governments pay them. Federal employees and private-sector workers do not.

The four liberal justices dissented, with Justice Elena Kagan writing that conservative justices had given scant regard to the court's usual way of evaluating when to overturn a long-standing precedent. Kagan said the practice of separating union political activities from collective bargaining-related spending, set by the court in the precedent overturned on June 27, had been a workable solution.

"There is no sugarcoating today's opinion. The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this nations law - and in its economic life - for over 40 years. As a result, it prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance," Kagan said. The court's majority, Kagan said, was "weaponizing the First Amendment" to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.

The decision represented a major victory for conservative activists who long have sought to curb the influence of public sector unions that often support the Democratic Party and liberal causes. It deprives unions of a vital revenue stream, undercuts their ability to attract new members and undermines their ability to spend in political races. Overturning the high court's ruling 41 years ago in a case called Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education constitutes a major win for the conservative movement.

Unionized teachers, police, firefighters and other civil servants in states without...

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