U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Janus, restores First Amendment rights to government workers

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
June 27, 2018

U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Janus, restores First Amendment rights to government workers

In a landmark labor case, the court ruled that forced union fees are unconstitutional. The decision marks the first step toward worker freedom for 5.5 million government employees across the United States – including 370,000 in Illinois.

In a 5-4 ruling on June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court declared forced union fees violate the First Amendment rights of government workers.

The case, Janus v. AFSCME, is a landmark decision. For decades, government workers in many states were forced to pay fees to government unions as a condition of employment.

Under that system, it didn’t matter whether a government worker thought the union represented him or her well. It didn’t matter whether he or she liked the way the union focused on politics. Public sector employees had to pay fees to their unions or risk losing their jobs.

That changes with the court’s June 27 ruling. The case, brought by Mark Janus, a child support specialist for the state of Illinois, challenged that unconstitutional scheme, arguing that forcing workers to subsidize unions through mandatory fees violates workers’ First Amendment freedom of speech.

The court agreed, ruling that government unions “may no longer extract” fees from “nonconsenting employees.” To do so would violate the First Amendment.

Janus was represented in court by the Illinois Policy Institute’s litigation partner, the Liberty Justice Center, as well as the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

Government workers will now get to choose for themselves whether they want to financially support their unions.

Here’s what the case means for government workers – and what it doesn’t mean.

What Janus means: Government workers’ rights to freedom of speech are restored

Janus marks a win for worker freedom across the nation. Government workers’ freedom of speech has been restored.

Approximately 5.5 million workers across 22 states – including around 370,000 government workers in Illinois – now have a choice in whether to pay money to a union.

Teachers, police officers and other government employees no longer have to surrender part of their paycheck to a union simply because they have chosen to serve others by taking a government position.

Under the Janus decision, state and local Illinois government employers should immediately stop deducting member dues or fees from employee paychecks. But because some employers may not act quickly – and because unions may act to delay or thwart such action – it is best that employees take steps to opt out of the union and alert their employers that they no longer authorize dues or fees to be deducted from their paychecks.

Generally, that includes 1) written notice to the union opting out of membership, and 2) written notice to the government employer that the worker no longer authorizes dues or fees to be taken from his or her paycheck.

These public employees can do this with no effect on their compensation or other benefits – such as overtime or seniority – provided in their collective bargaining agreements.

Workers who have already opted out of their unions – commonly referred to as fair share payers – may not immediately see a change in their paychecks. To best ensure dues or fees are no longer docked, fair share payers should also give written notice to their government employers.

For more information on how to opt out of a government union, visit leavemyunion.com.

What Janus doesn’t mean: The end of government union power in Illinois

Government unions will continue to maintain all other powers afforded them under state law. Collective bargaining itself will not be affected.

Unions will still:

  • Receive dues from members
  • Maintain a monopoly on representing all workers at the bargaining table
  • Bargain over wages, hours and other conditions of employment
  • Be able to go on strike as permitted by state law
  • Represent workers in grievances against their employers.

And any government workers who want to maintain union membership are free to do so – nothing changes for union members.

The court’s decision simply guarantees that government workers are no longer treated differently than other U.S. residents. They now get a voice and a choice on where their hard-earned money goes.

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