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By Chris Opfer
The right-to-work advocacy group that recently convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to kill “fair share” fees is demanding that state governments immediately stop deducting the charges from public workers who haven’t specifically agreed to pay them.
“The State should immediately stop the deduction of union fees from the paychecks of all nonmember employees,” National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation Vice President Raymond LaJeunesse wrote July 2 in letters to 20 states and Washington, D.C.
The letters come five days after the justices’ landmark ruling shooting down the fees charged to cover administrative and bargaining costs for public workers who choose not to join a union but are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. The 5-4 decision overturned four decades of precedent, finding that forcing nonmembers to pay up violated their free speech rights. It’s expected to put a substantial dent in union coffers.
“At least one other state comptroller has announced the immediate cessation of nonmember deductions,” LaJeunesse said. “If you do not immediately follow that example, Foundation staff attorneys will bring a civil rights action seeking class-wide injunctive relief, damages, and attorneys’ fees for any nonmember state employees who request their assistance.”
The foundation challenged the fees on behalf of Illinois government worker Mark Janus.
Illinois and California announced after the decision that they would stop collecting the union fees from nonmembers unless those workers affirmatively agree to pay. Massachusetts, Washington, and Pennsylvania have also implemented the change. New York will stop collecting fees for some 31,000 state employees later this month, a state comptroller’s office spokeswoman told Bloomberg Law.
“The highest court in the land has said to stop deducting the fees, so we stopped deducting the fees,” Pennsylvania Office of Administration spokesman Dan Egan told Bloomberg Law.
Justice Samuel Alito in the majority decision said workers have to opt in to paying the fees, instead of simply being given the right to opt out.
“Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay,” Alito wrote. He added that consent “must be freely given and shown by ‘clear and compelling’ evidence.”
Critics of the court’s decision say it allows workers to “free ride,” taking the higher wages and benefits that often come with union jobs without pitching in to cover the costs of collective bargaining.
“In this case, a bare majority of the court, over the vigorous dissent of four justices, has conceded to the dark web of corporations and wealthy donors who wish to take away the freedoms of working people,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said following the Janus decision. “Until it is overturned, this decision will be a political stain on what is intended to be the most honorable, independent body in the world.”
States such as New York, expecting the court to rule against unions, scrambled in the run-up to the decision to soften the blow. That includes by making it harder for workers to opt out of membership or paying fair share fees.
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