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Supreme Court rules in favor of Mark Janus in stunning reversal

The Supreme Court today issued a 5-4 ruling in favor of Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee who argued he shouldn’t be forced to pay agency fees to AFSCME Council 31.

The closely-watched case affects public-sector employees in 22 states — including Connecticut — which do not have right to work laws and enables state and local employees to opt out of union membership without paying fees.

The court took a further step requiring state employees to affirmatively join a union, meaning state and local employees will not automatically be enrolled in a union as part of their employment.

Janus argued that since public-sector collective bargaining determines state and local budgets it is inherently political and therefore any fees he pays toward collective bargaining violates his freedom of speech.

Today’s decision overturns the precedent set by the Supreme Court in its 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case, which determined unions could collect fees from non-members for the cost of collective bargaining, but not for any union political activity.

Justice Samuel Alito issued the majority opinion writing “Abood is inconsistent with First Amendment principles.”

So-called “agency fees” are generally 80 to 90 percent of dues and the rate is determined by the union. Agency fee payers must submit paperwork every year to remain non-members.

Janus believed that all public-sector union work is inherently political and therefore forcing him to pay agency fees as a condition of government employment is a violation of free speech.

The Court’s decision said the justifications offered for agency fees “passes muster.”

Justice Elena Kagan offered the dissenting opinion. Kagan said the decision “will have large-scale consequences. Public employee unions will lose a secure source of financial support. State and local governments that thought fair-share provisions furthered their interests will need to find new ways of managing their workforces.”

The Connecticut State Employees Association SEIU 2001 said on their website the Supreme Court “sided with billionaires against hard-working Americans. Their goal is to divide and weaken us so that they can take away all that working families have won over the years.”

Union membership has declined in the private sector over the last forty years, and much of their power has been concentrated in state and local government.

In Connecticut, 94 percent of the state’s workforce is unionized and six out ten union members in the state are in public-sector unions.

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Marc E. Fitch

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