Justices May Take Another Look at Forced Union Fees

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By Chris Opfer

The U.S. Supreme Court will get an opportunity to reconsider whether public sector unions can force nonmember workers to pay “fair share” fees, this time with a full roster of justices on the bench.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation intends by the end of May to file a petition asking the high court to review a Seventh Circuit decision dismissing a lawsuit by two Illinois government workers who challenged the fees on First Amendment grounds, Patrick Semmens, the foundation’s vice president, told Bloomberg BNA.

The Supreme Court in 2016 split 4-4 in a similar case involving fair share fees imposed on California teachers. That was before Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to replace the deceased conservative justice Antonin Scalia on the bench.

“I don’t think we would ever count on any justice to vote one way or the other, but Gorsuch is almost certain to be the decisive vote in the case,” Semmens said.

The NRWLDF and other critics argue that fair share fees force public sector workers to support unions even if they disagree with the organization’s stance on collective bargaining and politics.

Public sector unions in some states charge the fees to nonmember workers in a collective bargaining unit to cover administrative costs related to representation. Although the Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that those fees are constitutional, some observers believe that the justices may be open to changing their minds on the issue.

The Seventh Circuit ruled in 2016 that a federal district court properly dismissed the Illinois government workers’ lawsuit. The appeals panel said one worker already successfully challenged the fee policy on religious grounds—a state board said he could give the money to a charity instead—and that the other employee’s claims had already been resolved by the 1977 Supreme Court decision.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which was sued by the workers, declined Bloomberg BNA’s April 24 request for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in New York at copfer@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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