WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court will get the chance to decide how much fees public-worker unions in Illinois can take from non-union workers. And if it decides to hear arguments on a challenge to the fees originally introduced by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, it could mean the court is poised to overturn the longstanding legal precedent allowing the unions to exact the payments from non-members.
In March, a federal appeals court in Chicago upheld a lower
court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit that challenged the legal precedent used by
unions to validate the forcible collection of so-called “fair share” fees.
The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed
a lawsuit filed by Mark Janus, a state employee, against two labor unions, the American Federation of State, County
and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Teamsters. Janus claimed unions’ collection of fees from non-union
workers was unconstitutional.
Janus’ legal team said it will
ask a new conservative majority supreme court to overturn the existing precedent
established in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which allowed the
collection of “fair share” fees.
“If the supreme court is looking for the opportunity
to overturn Abood, as they appeared poised to do in Freidrichs before Justice
Scalia's death, this would provide an easy vehicle,” Shannon D. Farmer, an attorney at Ballard
Spahr LLP, told the Cook County Record.
Under current labor laws, unions cannot collect dues
from non-union workers because unions may use the dues for political activities
that non-union workers object to. This, in turn, would violate non-union
workers’ constitutional speech and association rights.
The unions contend their collective bargaining actions
are to the benefit of all workers, and the courts have maintained unions are
permitted to charge those workers for their “fair share” of the unions’
Farmer said the likelihood the supreme court will take
the appeal is hard to predict.
“It is hard to predict, particularly until a ninth justice
is confirmed," Farmer said. "When the court has a full complement, it may view this as a good
vehicle to finish what the court appeared poised to do in Freidrichs."
Famer said it is probable that the court would use the Illinois case to overturn Abood, particularly given the chance that
conservative Neil Gorsuch will be sitting on the court at the time the case would be decided.
“If they choose to take the case, it
appears very likely they would use it as a vehicle to do so,” Farmer said.