Justice Neil Gorsuch, who joined the court a year ago and is considered a key vote in the decision which is expected in June, did not ask any questions during the oral arguments. Now those compulsory union payments are squarely before the Supreme Court, with the First Amendment rights of over five million teachers, firefighters, police officers and other government workers like Mark Janus at stake.
Mary "Annie" Brown, a licensed practical nurse and a union member at Westmoreland Manor, is upset that the U.S. Supreme Court might give employees in a unionized workplace the right to refuse to pay dues, even though they would benefit from wage hikes gained through collective bargaining. Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the court in April and has yet to weigh in on union fees.
"A person, an employee, believes in what the union is advocating for they'll decide to support it".
"Unions need to have a strong voice in this country and our voice is very valuable", Andrew Pallota, NYSUT President, said.
"These employees are absolutely the reason we can study here at the top public university", they said.
Unions say they are entitled to the fees because they're negotiating on behalf of all public workers - even those who don't choose to join, but who nonetheless benefit from the pay and benefits the unions win.
Mark Janus, who works for the State of IL and chose not to join the AFSCME union, believes his First Amendment rights have been violated.
"So [right-to-work] weakens unions, which weakens them out of influence that they can have over policy", Cropper said, "and again, those policy decisions both at a state level and at a local level are critically important to a student's learning environment". The idea was to free non-union workers from having to support a union's political activities, without giving them a "free ride" on the wallets of dues-paying members.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner launched the lawsuit challenging the forced fees as unconstitutional, and Janus became the plaintiff after a court dropped the governor from the case because he did not have personal legal standing to fight the fees.
A decision on the case is expected in June.
Not being able to collect agency fees, that's a big problem for teachers, said OFT's Cropper.
Opponents of mandatory fees, however, say the law forces workers to fund groups that back political candidates and causes they oppose.
"Our members. want their union to have power", he said. "To the degree to which the union resources are diminished by individuals exercising their First Amendment right not to subsidize that union, I submit that's a perfectly acceptable result", he said.
A recent paper by Columbia's Alexander Hertel-Fernandez and two colleagues found that the Democratic share of the presidential vote dropped an average of 3.5 percentage points in states that enacted so-called right-to-work laws.
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