The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that public sector unions cannot force some 5 million government workers to pay mandatory fees.
A five-justice majority led by Justice Samuel Alito found the practice violates the Constitution.
A 1977 Supreme Court precedent called Abood v. Detroit Board of Education allows public sector unions to collect administrative fees from government workers to cover the cost of collective bargaining. Many state and local governments designate a single union as their exclusive bargaining partner, meaning all public employees are bound by the contractual agreements labor leaders reach with public officials.
These so-called agency fees protect union shops from the free-rider problem, in which non-unionized workers enjoy the benefits of membership without enrolling in a union.
Abood also provides that agency fees may only be used for contract negotiations. They cannot finance political expenditures.
The decision has long been something of a pet peeve to conservative jurists, who argue it draws a meaningless distinction. As they see it, collective bargaining is an inherently political process, meaning government workers are made to subsidize speech with which they may disagree, in violation of the First Amendment.
Wednesday’s case was occasioned when a child support specialist in the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family, Mark Janus, brought a suit against the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which deducts a fee from his monthly paycheck.
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