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The Journal Gazette

Friday, September 29, 2017 1:00 am

Conservative-heavy high court takes up case challenging unions

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Its conservative majority restored, the Supreme Court said Thursday it will return to an issue with the potential to financially cripple Democratic-leaning labor unions representing government workers.

After the justices deadlocked 4-4 in a similar case last year, the high court will consider a free-speech challenge from workers who object to paying money to unions they don't support.

The court, with conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch on board, could decide to overturn a 40-year-old Supreme Court ruling that allows public-sector unions to collect fees from non-members to cover the costs of negotiating contracts for all employees.

The union fees case is among nine new cases the justices added to their docket for the term that begins Monday. Others deal with a defendant's right to direct his own defense, police searches of vehicles and overtime pay for service advisers at car dealerships.

Labor unions have been under attack at the high court in recent years. The latest appeal is from a state employee in Illinois. It was filed at the Supreme Court just two months after Gorsuch filled the high court seat that had been vacant since Justice Antonin Scalia's death.

The stakes are high. Union membership in the U.S. declined to just 10.7 percent of the workforce last year, and the ranks of private-sector unions have been especially hard hit.

Labor leaders criticized the court for taking the case.

“This case is yet another example of corporate interests using their power and influence to launch a political attack on working people and rig the rules of the economy in their own favor,” said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

But National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation president Mark Mix said the court was poised to protect employees' rights.

“With the Supreme Court agreeing to hear the Janus case, 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,” Mix said.