Supreme Court case may cripple public sector labor unions

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in favor of non-union workers in a case that some believe could have a significant impact on the influence of public-sector labor unions.

Known as Janus vs. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the court determined it is unconstitutional to require government workers to pay a “fair share” fee to unions for the coverage and protection afforded to them under collective bargaining if they choose not to be members.

As a result, public unions stand to lose out on fees from some individuals who may choose not to join but still want the benefits, also known as “free riders,” which could cost the groups a lot of money.

The plaintiff in the case, Mark Janus, a child-support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, argued that non-members are forced to pay a fee to support union’s increasingly politically-focused causes that they do not support. The high court agreed the procedure was a violation of free speech.

Janus said on Wednesday before the press that 5 million non-union members would now be free "to make their own choice."

"I don’t want to be forced to pay something to somebody just to hold a government job," Janus told FOX Business' Stuart Varney. "I want to make my own decision and I shouldn’t have to pay a fee just to do something that I like to do."

Only 22 states allowed unions to collect fair-share fees. The unions in these states that benefited from collecting the money argue it is just because the employees who are not direct members, but are covered by collective-bargaining agreements, still benefit from their efforts.

Union membership is on the decline, specifically in the private sector, where fair-share fees are already prohibited in most states. The overall rate of union membership was 10.7% last year, compared with 20.1% in 1983, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2017, 6.5% of private-sector workers belonged to a union, while 34.4% of public-sector workers were members.

The decline in membership is not a death knell for unions, just a call for them to restructure, according to Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute.

“It’s not like public sector unions have disappeared in the other [28] states … they operate differently … their operations are more efficient,” he told FOX Business. “The shape of the unions, the way they operate, will change.”

The loss for public-sector unions may serve to curtail their involvement in non-labor-related efforts because they will have significantly less money to spend on politics, according to Shapiro.

“It will erode unions’ electioneering and politicking, and involvement in issues that are unrelated to workers’ interests, like abortion or gun control, or things that are political issues that have nothing to do with the unions themselves or the workers they are representing,” he said.

An earlier Supreme Court case on union fees, Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, ended in a   4-4 stalemate after Justice Antonin Scalia died.