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SCOTUS Union Decision: What 4 Things You Need To Know

In a huge setback for organized labor, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that government employees can’t be forced into paying fees to unions who represent them.

The case involved Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee who claimed paying fees to AFSCME Council 31, which represented him, violated his First Amendment rights.

“Long term, it has potentially devastating implications for public sector unions in Illinois and elsewhere,” said Michael LeRoy, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s School of Labor and Employment Relations.

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People gather at the Supreme Court awaiting a decision in an Illinois union dues case, Janus vs. AFSCME, in Washington on Monday, June 25, 2018.

People gather at the Supreme Court awaiting a decision in an Illinois union dues case, Janus vs. AFSCME, in Washington on Monday, June 25, 2018.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

In a huge setback for organized labor, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that government employees can’t be forced into paying fees to unions who represent them.

The case involved Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee who claimed paying fees to AFSCME Council 31, which represented him, violated his First Amendment rights.

“Long term, it has potentially devastating implications for public sector unions in Illinois and elsewhere,” said Michael LeRoy, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s School of Labor and Employment Relations.

WBEZ’s Lisa Labuz spoke with LeRoy about the ramifications of the high court’s decision.

Here are four takeaways.

1. What the ruling means for Janus and other union workers

Michael LeRoy: It does present the opportunity for Mr. Janus to become a “free rider.” He can get union representation and not pay a dime for it.

2. What the ruling means for large unions

LeRoy: A large union can absorb the “free rider” problem better than a small union. So I think AFSCME will be well-positioned to weather the storm but I think there are going to be problems.

Just a practical illustration is enforcing existing agreements through arbitration and a grievance process. If you have a large number of free riders, you have fewer resources, you have less money, and unions employ people to enforce these labor agreements. They have staff representatives. So that’s an immediate impact.

A longer term impact is the inability to get people to organize within the union around issues and to mobilize their support — both for contracts and for politics.

3. Potential for future problems

LeRoy: One of the problems in having a court rule as opposed to having a legislative process is there aren’t details about how to go about it. And I would imagine there will be follow-up lawsuits.

4. What’s the ‘endgame’?

LeRoy: This is part of a long-term strategy by conservatives and anti-union groups in Illinois to walk away from pension obligations to public sector employees.

If there is an endgame in Illinois, that is the endgame.

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