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United States Supreme Court Reverses 41-year Precedent Dealing Setback to Labor Unions

            The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that government workers cannot be forced to contribute to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining without their consent. The Court was asked if it was unconstitutional to require public-sector employees to pay union fees even if they choose not to join or disagree with union views. Overturning its 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the majority found an Illinois state law that required these fees violated the First Amendment.

            In the now overturned Abood case, the Supreme Court upheld a Michigan law against a similar First Amendment challenge and allowed public employers whose employees were represented by unions to require those employees to pay an “agency” or “fair-share” fee to cover the costs of collective bargaining. Union advocates argue that today’s decision will enable employees to “free ride” by reaping the benefits of union representation without paying for it.

            Justice Alito wrote for the majority: “Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember's wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.” The majority acknowledged this decision may result in a loss of payments to the unions, but noted that such loss pales in comparison to “the considerable windfall that unions have received . . . in the past 41 years.”

The Court’s decision is seen as a blow to unions as their membership has continued to significantly decline. If you have questions about labor unions, feel free to contact one of our labor attorneys at CGWG.