Supreme Court adds union fee case to blockbuster docket

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The new case concerns Mark Janus, who works for the state government in IL and is represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Janus is seeking to overturn a 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

"We are now one step closer to freeing over 5 million public-sector teachers, police officers, firefighters and other employees from the injustice of being forced to subsidize a union as a condition of working for their own government", said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an anti-union legal activist group that represents Janus.

While the Janus case involves a different plaintiff from a different state (Illinois), the argument is the same: Collective bargaining by public-sector unions inherently involves political issues that trigger First Amendment rights, just like the overtly political union activities that nonmembers have long had the right to refuse to help pay for.

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But David Frederick, a Washington lawyer representing Janus's union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said union dues are justified by the expense of contract negotiations. In many states, when a majority of employees at a private company vote to unionize, all employees at that company are legally required to pay union dues. But conservative justice Antonin Scalia died a month later and the short-handed court ended up with a 4-4 split in April 2016 that left the law intact but set no nationwide precedent.

Some public employees say their free-speech rights are violated by the requirement, and conservative legal activists have at least twice asked the Supreme Court to overturn a decades-old precedent that allows so-called agency fees.

The decision to hear the case sparked a new round of concern among union leaders, who have been fighting for years in courthouses and legislatures to preserve agency fees.

The case dates back to 2015, when Rauner issued an executive order that directed state government to stop passing fair share fees on to unions. Federal employee unions can not collect such fees. He also has questioned the restrictions on using fair share money for political purposes, saying it's impossible to separate political activities because public-sector unions negotiate directly with the government.

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An AFSCME statement calls the case a plan to "rig the economic rules against everyday working people". The state Supreme Court's 5-2 ruling reversed a lower court decision to dismiss the challenge to how schools are funded.

That case, Friedrichs v. California Teacher's Association, was over the approximately $650 each teacher in California has to pay the union, despite the fact the union's political statements and bargaining activities may be in direct violation of any individual teacher's speech rights.

The conservative-majority Supreme Court has signaled dissatisfaction with the Abood ruling in two prior cases in recent years.

The court will hear arguments early next year and rule by June.

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