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.
[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.