It’s not unusual for the U.S. Supreme Court to make the news on the last day of the term. Last Wednesday’s announcement of Justice Kennedy’s retirement dominated the news cycle, overwhelming the attention given to a decision that may have important implications for employers.

The court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME overturns a previous decision that required public employees to pay union fees that cover the costs of collective bargaining. In a 1977 case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the court ruled that public sector unions could collect “agency fees” from non-union members who were represented in collective bargaining agreements. The fees represented a portion of union dues that were “attributable to activities that are ‘germane to [the union’s] duties as collective bargaining representative.’”

The July 27 determination overturned the earlier decision. In the majority opinion, Justice Alito agreed with the assertion of petitioner Mark Janus, that agency fees violated First Amendment rights to free speech. With the Janus determination, the court ruled that the union’s bargaining over pay and work conditions with a local or other government is inherently political activity, which workers can’t be forced to fund.

The ruling is expected to have a negative effect on the finances of public unions and increases pressure on both public and private-sector unions. Labor officials and union advocates expect the decision to produce new models for organizing workers in both sectors. Currently, Unions represent about 34 percent of government workers, compared with about 6 percent of private sector employees.


Janus v. AFSCME, U.S., No. 16-1466, 6/27/18.

Semuels, Alana, Is This the End of Public-Sector Unions in America?, The Atlantic, June 27, 2018.

Kanu, Hassan A., Supreme Court Kills Public Sector Union Fees, Bloomberg Law, June 27, 2018.

Supreme Court Photo: Wikimedia Commons