In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that government workers have a constitutional right to refuse paying fees to unions that represent them in collective bargaining.
The petitioner, Mark Janus, works for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Despite refusing to join the union because he opposed its policy positions, Janus was required to pay a $44.58 monthly agency fee under his unit’s collective bargaining agreement.
“There is no sugarcoating today’s opinion,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote, in a dissenting opinion. “The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this Nation’s law — and in its economic life — for over 40 years.” Kagan wrote that the majority had weaponized the First Amendment “against workaday economic and regulatory policy.”
The majority opinion, delivered by Justice Samuel Alito, said the Illinois law in question, “violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”
The justices were split along ideological lines. Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement later the same day.
Following the ruling, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce released a statement from their president and CEO Daniel Mehan.
“We agree with the court that employees should not be forced to subsidize an organization they may not want to support,” Mehan said in the statement. He added that the chamber is also in favor of Proposition A, which Missourians will vote on in August.
If approved by voters, the proposition would uphold Senate Bill 19, a so-called right-to-work law that was passed by the legislature and governor in 2017 but stalled by the submission of thousands of signed petitions. The bill would prevent workers from being required to pay money to or be members of labor organizations.
The Missouri legislature added restrictions to public unions during the final hours of the session, on May 18. Among them, the requirements that unions re-certify every three years and obtain members’ consent annually to withhold money from paychecks for fees and dues.