Supreme Court Strikes a Blow Against Public Labor Unions With ‘Janus v. AFSCME’ Decision

By Akiba Solomon Jun 27, 2018

In a rebuke to public sector unions, The Supreme Court this morning (June 27) ruled in favor of plaintiff Mark Janus in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31. 

At issue in the case was whether employees who choose not to join their public-sector job’s union should still be required to pay "fair share" or "agency" fees to cover the cost of collective bargaining on behalf of all employees. The defense argued that non-members benefit from union contract negotiations regardless of their membership. The plaintiffs claimed that the fees violated the First Amendment rights of non-members.

The Court decision was 5-4 along ideological lines. According to SCOTUS blog, Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the main dissent, warned that the ruling could disrupt thousands of ongoing contracts that cover millions of workers.  

The case was originally filed in 2015 by Illinois’ newly elected anti-union Republican governor Bruce Rauner, a former private equity executive with a reported net worth $500 million. While the Federal District Court of Illinois stripped the case from Rauner for lack of cause, it allowed three public workers, including child-support specialist Mark Janus, to become plaintiffs.

In response to the decision President Trump tweeted—inaccurately—that non-union workers "are now, as an example, able to support a candidate of his or her choice without having those who control the Union deciding for them." According to CBS Money Watch, unions have been prohibited from spending non-union members’ funds on political activity for 41 years.


The president was correct about one point he made in his uncharacteristically lucid tweet. Janus is indeed a "Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!"

The Open Secrets blog of the Center for Responsive Politics reports that the public unions overwhelmingly and reliably support Democratic Congressional candidates over Republicans. For example, so far this year, public sector unions have spent over $6.4 million on Democratic candidates compared to some $1.3 million on Republicans. 

A range of racial and economic justice groups have described the Janus decision, which they expected, as an attack on public workers, particularly those of color. 

From Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights executive director Seema Nanda:


“The aggressively activist decision today by five members of the Supreme Court in Janus is an attack on unions and working families that will further rig our economy and democracy in favor of corporations and billionaires. Today’s decision further threatens the economic security of working people, including women and people of color, by weakening the ability of public sector union members like firefighters, teachers, social workers, and police officers to earn a decent living."

Working Families Party national director Maurice Mitchell said in a statement that unions "built the American middle-class. They brought us the [40]-hour work week and employer-based healthcare. They raised wage floors and ended child labor. For decades, public service unions have been one of the primary points of entry for Black people into the middle class."

And Alicia Garza, strategy and partnerships director at National Domestic Workers Alliance, said in a statement that Janus was a particular blow to Black women, who at 18 percent make up the largest share of public sector workers“This marks a direct attack on Black women getting a fair shot in our economy. We make up nearly one-fifth of public-sector workers, and already face an uphill battle in making strides in every single workplace. At a time when our power is being actively undermined, we must do everything we can to grow our power.”

For more information about Janus and "fair share" fees, check out the Economic Policy Institute’s explainer. 

For one perspective on how the case fits within a greater conservative agenda, read Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson’s op-ed for Colorlines