Earlier this week, the 7th Circuit kicked to the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court the most recent case opposing payment of fair share union dues. In Janus, et al v. American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, et al, the plaintiffs are two “fair share” members of AFSCME and Teamsters, respectively, who claim various violations of their constitutional rights as public employees by being forced to pay fair share dues, an amount set by a union which they charge to employees in job titles represented by a union where the employee chooses not to be a union member. Fair share dues are supposed to cover the bargaining and contract administration cost of the union from which non-union employees benefit by virtue of being in a union represented job title. In practice fair share dues for public employees are typically more than 90% of full union dues.
Fair share dues for public employees were initially sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education in 1977. That case involved a Michigan public employee with very similar claims to those raised by plaintiffs in the current case. As readers may recall, this same issue was before the U.S. Supreme Court last term in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. While many experts believed that the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn the Abood decision in that case, thereby relieving employees from fair share dues payments, Justice Scalia’s death left the court with a 4 – 4 decision, resulting in the lower court’s decision of affirming fair share standing.
This week, the 7th Circuit, in a quick decision of the Janus v. AFSCME case, acknowledged that it was bound by the Abood decision, thus clearing the path for the plaintiffs to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. With the likely appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, who has a strong decision history of pro-business, the court may abolish fair share dues for public employees. That will serve as a real financial blow to public employee unions in Illinois and elsewhere and weaken the power of those unions. After all, a majority of employees in a workplace might sign cards or vote to be union represented, but many of those employees might ultimately decline to be union members, leaving public employee unions with all of the responsibility of union representation but far less of the revenue derived from it.