February 27, 2018

Supreme Court Arguments: Mandatory Union Dues

  • Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Janus v. AFSCME, which involves a challenge to mandatory public-sector union dues.
  • Mark Janus of Illinois was required to pay $44.58 per month to support AFSCME, which he said forced him to support political views with which he disagrees.
  • The Trump administration has filed an amicus brief arguing that mandatory public-sector union dues violate the First Amendment.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, a case contesting the constitutionality of mandatory union dues for public-sector employees. Mark Janus, a child-support specialist for the state of Illinois, is challenging an Illinois statute that allows unions to charge mandatory fees to public employees. He is appealing a decision of the Seventh Circuit holding that his challenge to the statute was correctly dismissed under Supreme Court precedent.

The Illinois statute authorizes public-sector unions to require employees in a “collective bargaining unit” to “pay their proportionate share of the costs of the collective bargaining process.” These mandatory fees may not be used by the union for political expenses.

Hundreds of Dollars Taken Out Annually for Union Dues


Although Mr. Janus is not a member of AFSCME, the union forced him to pay $44.58 in monthly fees, or about $535 annually. He says the mandatory fees violate his First Amendment rights by forcing him to fund advocacy – including rallies, demonstrations, and disruptive activity — with which he disagrees. He specifically “does not agree with what he views as the union’s one-sided politicking for only its point of view” and “believes that AFSCME’s behavior in bargaining does not appreciate the current fiscal crises in Illinois and does not reflect his best interests or the interests of Illinois citizens.”

Mr. Janus’ challenge to the Illinois statute was dismissed by the lower courts under the precedent set by Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a 1977 case that had upheld the imposition of mandatory union dues on teachers in Detroit. The Supreme Court in that earlier case determined that unions may levy mandatory fees for “collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment” but not for political purposes.

Mr. Janus has argued that Abood should be overruled, and the Trump administration agrees. It has filed a brief in the case, contending that the Abood decision is “inconsistent with prevailing First Amendment precedent and should be overruled.”

A number of states, led by Michigan, also filed an amicus brief in support of overruling Abood, arguing that it “is time to abandon the meaningless distinction between collective bargaining and other political activity.” In their brief, they highlight municipal bankruptcies stemming from fiscal challenges brought on by public-sector unions to underline the political nature of public-sector collective bargaining. They note that “issues at the heart of public-sector bargaining are matters of great public concern, and are not merely employment issues between employee and employer,” and that many “public servants are motivated by interests beyond their own individual financial interests.”

The Janus case follows a 2016 challenge to mandatory public-sector union fees brought by California teachers. At oral arguments, Justice Antonin Scalia noted that in the case of public-sector unions, “what is bargained for is, in all cases, a matter of public interest,” which “may require a change” in the rule allowing for mandatory union dues. Justice Scalia died after the case was argued, and in a 4-4 per curiam, one-line opinion the court affirmed the Ninth Circuit decision upholding California’s mandatory union fees. His seat has since since been filled by Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Issue Tag: Judiciary