The Supreme Court dealt a devastating blow to unions last week in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31 (AFSCME).
The lawsuit, brought on behalf of Mark Janus, challenged an Illinois law that required nonunion workers to pay an “agency fee” – a portion of union dues – to cover the costs of collective bargaining measures performed by the union on behalf of all workers, regardless of their union membership status.
The lawyers in the Janus case argued that this was a violation of free speech, and the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 split, ruled in Janus’s favor, overturning the landmark Abood decision that has governed labor relations for the past 41 years. The Abood decision stated that it was lawful to collect fees for the collective bargaining work done by unions on behalf of all workers, and that nonunion workers were not required to pay fees for other activities, such as campaigning and other political projects.
With that landmark case overturned, unions throughout the nation, including in Oregon, are no longer able to collect fees from nonunion members, despite their requirement to continue representing those workers in labor disputes and collective bargaining for wages and benefits, among other activities.
This ruling is controversial not only for its free speech implications, but also for the overwhelming evidence on the advantages of unions to workers. For example, a 2013 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that, between 2001 and 2011, “union workers continue to receive higher wages than nonunion workers and have greater access to most employer-sponsored employee benefits.”
With Abood overturned and Janus now governing labor relations, many Oregonians are concerned with how this decision will impact the more than 50,000 employees currently represented by unions throughout the state. Importantly, unions, nonprofits, and labor advocates in Salem have raised pressing questions about the way this case was funded, how it will affect the ability to exercise rights in the workplace, the potential decrease in living wages and essential benefits, and the impact it will have on marginalized workers, such as people of color, disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, and women.
In the face of these concerns, union leaders in Oregon released an encouraging joint statement with the Governor regarding the decision: “The Supreme Court’s disappointing ruling in the Janus case tips the scale yet again in favor of wealthy special interests, making it even harder for working families to get ahead. Despite that decision, however, Oregon’s unions will remain strong as long as union members stick together and continue acting collectively for the common good of all workers.”