A Recent SCOTUS Decision on Labor Might Actually Strengthen Unions - Pacific Standard

A Recent SCOTUS Decision on Labor Might Actually Strengthen Unions

Identifying union fees as a matter of free speech works both ways.
Author:
Publish date:
Hundreds of union members held a rally outside of San Francisco City Hall in February of 2018 as the Supreme Court began to hear oral arguments in the Janus case.

Hundreds of union members held a rally outside of San Francisco City Hall in February of 2018 as the Supreme Court began to hear oral arguments in the Janus case.

Last week, the Supreme Court made one of its biggest decisions regarding labor in recent history. It ruled that government workers—including public school teachers and local government employees—do not have to pay union fees if they don't want to. Paying union fees is a form of free speech, the majority of justices argued, so the government cannot compel it.

The Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees decision was widely seen as weakening public-sector, and perhaps even all, unions; Pacific Standard spoke with a researcher last week who outlined why.

But at the same time, there are ways in which the Janus decision may actually strengthen unions, University of Minnesota economist John Budd argued recently:

[R]ecall that the Janus decision relies on elevating collective bargaining to a level of public speech that is entitled to constitutional protection. Ironically, then, this could bring new levels of legal protection to public sector collective bargaining. For example, state laws that restrict collective bargaining to narrow occupations or prohibit it altogether might now be unconstitutional violations of free speech. Attempts to legislate further limitations on public sector bargaining ... could also be challenged on this same basis. These issues will take years to work through the legal system, however.

Such an outcome might be contrary to the wishes of the Republican donors who have tried to weaken unions—including by working for a more conservative judiciary—because they think unions increase government spending and strengthen the Democratic Party. But Janus' real effects remain to be seen. Now it's up to states, which may pass laws either buffering their unions from Janus, or further weakening them.

Related