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The upcoming Supreme Court case that could have major implications for the future of public sector unions

A police officer stands guard on the steps of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, June 15, 2017.
A police officer stands guard on the steps of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, June 15, 2017.

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Next week, the nine justices on the Supreme Court of the United States will hear a case that could change the relationship between public sector unions and the workers they represent in more than 20 states, including California.

Oral arguments begin at 10 a.m. EST in Janus v. American Federation State, County, and Municipal Employees, which asks whether a 1977 Supreme Court ruling which is still law, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, should be overturned. In that case, the justices decided that while no one can be forced to join a public employees’ union, non-members can be required to pay so-called “agency fees,” which help defray the cost of collective bargaining. The idea is essentially that since non-union members directly benefit from the union in terms of their working conditions, wages and pensions, they should be required to contribute to the cost of negotiations even if they’re not in the union.

Plaintiff Mark Janus and his attorneys say that not only should non-union employees not have to pay the fee just to work for the state, but that requiring them to do so violates the First Amendment because, since Janus did not agree with AFSCME’s union politics, paying “agency fees” was unconstitutional compelled speech.

Those arguing against Mr. Janus say if the court finds in his favor, it could have a huge impact on public sector unions’ revenue stream, and union memberships would drop. They also argue that “Abood” is already law, and since states have learned to work around it and unions have negotiated many contracts under its rules, that now is not the time to change it.

The Supreme Court has tackled this question within the last several years, most recently in 2016 in Friedrichs v. California Teachers’ Association, in which justices looked like they might overturn Abood. Ultimately, they ended up deadlocked in a 4-4 split after Justice Antonin Scalia passed away before the case could be decided.


Jacob Huebert, attorney representing the plaintiff, Mark Janus, in the SCOTUS case, Janus v. AFSCME that will be argued Monday; he is also the director of litigation at the Liberty Justice Center, a nonprofit that focuses on protecting economic liberty and private property rights

Matt Bodie, professor of employment and labor law at Saint Louis University; he co-authored an amicus brief in support of AFSCME

Yvonne Walker, president of SEIU Local 1000, the Sacramento-based branch of the labor union representing many public employee workers