Supreme Court Allows State Workers to Opt Out of Union Fees

August 16, 2018 Updated: August 16, 2018

On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mark Janus in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The ruling means that public sector employees may now opt out of paying union fees.

This situation already existed in 28 “Right-to-Work” states, which already locally have similar laws allowing workers to opt out of union fees.

The case originated because Janus claimed that paying fees to unions, who use those fees to support political parties, violated his constitutional right to free speech. Janus was supported by both donors and anti-union groups.

This ruling will not eliminate unions or make it so people cannot unionize. Private sector unions will be unaffected. However, the ruling may bring changes to public sector unions and employees.

Assembly Member Kevin Kiley (R, 6th district), who previously worked as an English teacher in an inner-city Los Angeles public high school, commented on changes that may occur because of the ruling.

“It is going to change the dynamic when it comes to education policy in California. My hope is that it will be in a favorable way, so that our education policy can become more about helping students achieve than protecting certain institutional interests,” Kiley said.

Generally, a majority of the money donated to political parties from union groups nationwide is given to democratic and liberal groups.

Even though the portion of union dues that directly went to political activity was small, those who paid dues already had the option to opt out of paying them.

Kiley said: “Now that you can opt out of a larger payment, that will probably be more of an incentive to opt out, and that will impact the union’s overall budget for collective bargaining activities, for their own administration, as well as for their political giving. Of course, one of the big arguments at the heart of the Janus decision is that these categories are not so distinct from one another.”

The Janus decision overruled a precedent in 1977, the decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. That case was somewhat similar in that public sector employees did not want to pay union fees. At that time, the Supreme Court ruled that if those paying union dues felt dissatisfaction towards their union, they should be able to find other ways to voice that dissatisfaction, other than not paying fees.

Kiley added: “Now that membership is not automatic but has to be earned, you’re going to see a new potential for unions or associations to become institutions that actually serve the interests of our education system, which is not the case right now.”

He said one such example is California’s teacher tenure law.

“California has one of the worst teacher tenure laws in the country,” he said. “Teachers across California oppose this, I think over 80 percent of teachers. … But the union has fought tooth and nail to keep that policy in place.”

He said, “The decision is going to make it so unions need to actually provide value to their members.”