June 7, 2017
It is settled law that public employees who do not belong to the union that represents them cannot be required to pay fees that the union would use for political activity like union organizing. But in 1977, the Supreme Court ruled that public employees who do not belong to a union can be required to pay a fee – often known as a “fair share” or “agency” fee – to cover the union’s costs to negotiate a contract that applies to all public employees, including those who are not union members. That decision, in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, turned 40 last month. But if an Illinois state employee, Mark Janus, has his way, Abood may not survive to see 41. Yesterday Janus asked the Supreme Court to overrule that decision and hold that requiring an unwilling employee to pay even this more limited fee violates the First Amendment. If the court agrees to weigh in, as it is likely to do, its ruling could affect not only the financial health of public-employee unions, but possibly even politics more broadly. And its decision could also be one of the first tangible and significant signs of the impact of the 2016 presidential election on the Supreme Court.