Owen Voutsinas-Klose is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania
In one of the most closely watched cases of the current Supreme Court term, Janus v. AFSCME, newly minted Justice Neil Gorsuch is expected to deliver a significant blow to public sector unions by ruling, along with the conservative wing of the court, that mandatory public union dues are unconstitutional.
The case, brought by Illinois state employee Mark Janus against his union, centers around “fair share fees”, also known as agency fees. The Supreme Court ruled in a 1977 decision known as Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that public sector non-union members can be forced to pay agency fees in lieu of dues to cover the union’s cost of negotiating a contract that benefits all employees. While non-union members cannot be forced to subsidize political activity, the challengers in Janus contend that forcing a public sector employee to subsidize a contract negotiation as a condition for employment violates their right to free speech under the First Amendment. Unions and their allies meanwhile defend the unanimous 1977 Abood decision, and its contention that reasonable payments in lieu of dues to recuperate costs of negotiation, so long as the dues do not go to explicitly political purposes, are allowed.