Monday, July 16, 2018

US Supreme Court sides with non-union workers in “fair share” fee case

By on June 27, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that public-sector unions for employees can not force nonmembers to pay union fees.

In a 5-4 ruling, the top court said collecting an agency fee from public sector employees who decide not to join the union violates their First Amendment rights to free speech.

Locally, however, Puerto Rican unions say that in the end it is more beneficial for a worker to have a union representing him in a labor dispute than it is having to do so on his own accord because of the high costs of litigation.

The court’s conservative wing, led by Justice Samuel Alito, overturned a 1977 court precedent in a ruling Wednesday that allowed public-sector unions to accept fees from nonmembers to cover nonpolitical union activities like collective bargaining.

The court said the precedent was wrongly decided.

“Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from the nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay,” Alito wrote.

The court’s liberal wing — Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer — dissented.

The case centers on an Illinois law, similar to those in 22 other states and Puerto Rico, that allows public-sector unions to collect dues from employees for nonpolitical activities like collective bargaining, regardless of whether those employees belong to the union.

Mark Janus, a state child support specialist at the center of the case, argued against having to give up about $45 from each paycheck to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31, arguing that it violated his First Amendment rights because it forces him to support the union’s messaging.

This case will benefit a Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (Prasa) plant operator who has sued in federal court challenging the constitutionality of public sector union officials’ forced-dues powers. Reynaldo Cruz claimed he had been forced to pay union fees despite attempting to leave the Authentic Independent Union (UIA by its Spanish initials) last year. He is arguing that a local labor law requiring a worker to join and pay union dues as a condition of government employment violates his First Amendment rights.

The case was taken by the organization that represented Janus in the case. The vice president of the UTIER, the Electrical and Irrigation Industry Workers Union, which represents electrical workers, Fredyson Martínez, said he was not worried about the decision because “the introduction letters of unions are their best attribute.” Fees paid by workers are used, among others, to defend the rights of the workers in labor disputes without any additional cost.

“In the current moment that we live in, unions are necessary and belonging to the union has more benefits because we represent workers, especially those who cannot defend themselves,” Martinez said. “Belonging to a union is much more beneficial for a worker.”

The UTIER, an entity that has proposed a model of democratic governance for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority instead of privatization, has two lawsuits against the Financial Oversight and Management Board for violating workers’ rights.

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