The 1935 Wagner Act (also called the National Labor Relations Act) gave private-sector employees the right to collectively bargain with their employers, and guaranteed unions exclusive representation within a bargaining unit. In 1962, an executive order from President John F Kennedy granted public-sector employees the right to unionize for the first time.
Prior to the 2018 Janus case, the Supreme Court weighed in on collective bargaining and workers’ rights several times, most notably in the Abood and Beck cases. In the 1977 Abood case, public school teachers in Detroit, Michigan wanted to abolish the practice of mandatory union membership or equivalent agency fees. The Supreme Court, however, held that union shop employment – whereby all employees must either join the union or pay agency fees to cover the cost of collective bargaining – was legal in both the private and public sector. The 1988 Beck case limited what unions could charge as agency fees to non-members it represented: unions could only charge for the cost of representation during collective bargaining, not for other union costs like lobbying or other political spending.
Mark Janus, a child support specialist for the state of Illinois, not only wanted a refund of a portion of his union dues like the Beck case outlined – the portion that went towards lobbying and other political spending – but also felt that mandatory union membership or payments was a form of compelled political speech.
In general, in the Janus v. AFSCME case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mark Janus, emphasizing that mandatory union membership or fees for government unions are a violation of workers’ First Amendment free-speech rights, noting that government unions are “inherently political” because they involved the allocation of tax-payer resources. Thus, mandatory union membership or payments was compelled political speech. This changed 40 years of precedent, and the full effects of this ruling are still being studied.
Why is the Janus decision important?
The Janus case established that public employees (those who work for federal, state, or local/municipal governments) could not be required to join a union or pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of employment. We call collectively the the rights to "opt-out", or leave, a union, as well as the right to be free from discrimination related to your union membership "Janus rights".
The full text of the Supreme Court decision can be found on the Court’s website.
A nonpartisan write-up of the Court’s decision, what was at stake in the case, and each side's general arguments can be found on Ballotopedia
Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee, was represented by the Liberty Justice Center during the case. Their report on the case can be found here.
The National Conference of State Legislatures has summarized the impact of the Janus decision here.
A breakdown of the legal arguments for both sides of the argument can be found here.
Here are a number of different resources about what it means at work when you exercise your right to choose whether or not to be part of a union:
The National Right to Work Foundation, a well-established charitable organization working to eliminate coercive union power, has detailed information here on specific employment situations workers might encounter as they contemplate leaving a union.
The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), a national leader and certification organization for HR professionals issued this guidance on how to responsibly handle changes in union membership in the workforce.
The American Public Transit Association issued this legal guidance to its members and employers: “Supervisors should be trained about three aspects of Janus….employees must not be rewarded or punished based on their decisions [about union membership].”
Baker Hostetler, one of the largest legal firms in the country, issued this legal guidance to public-sector employers about how the Janus decision affects work places, saying “Moving forward, according to the Court, employees must “clearly and affirmatively” consent to pay the union before any fees are taken from their paychecks. That signifies that all public employees – not just non-member, agency fee payers – must affirmatively opt in to paying any type of union fee, rather than being required to opt out.”
APSA supports and empowers public sector workers and their families by providing them with a reliable and affordable alternative to traditional union membership.