SCOTUS: Non-Members Need Not Pay Public Unions

SCOTUS: Non-Members Need Not Pay Public Unions

Article Jun 27, 2018

A landmark Supreme Court ruling Wednesday that government employees don’t have to pay union fees if they’re not union members could have big implications for the fire service.

In the Illinois case Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, the court ruled 5-4 that such workers’ First Amendment rights protect them from being forced to contribute unless they actually join the union. Such fees are based on the idea that the union negotiates benefits for all members of groups like firefighters, not just those who have joined it, and thus represents everyone in the field. “States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his majority opinion. 

The decision means public-sector unions, traditionally supporters of liberal candidates and causes, could face losses of income, membership, and influence—“a big loss for the coffers of the Democrats,” tweeted President Donald Trump. It overturns a precedent set in the 1977 case of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, where justices ruled the unions could collect “fair share” or “agency fees” because they effectively represent all workers, members or not. 

International Association of Fire Fighters General President Harold Schaitberger condemned the ruling in a statement Wednesday morning. 

“The Janus vs. AFSCME Council 31 case was pushed by forces that want to take away the voices of firefighters and the power of all public employee unions,” Schaitberger said. “The intent is to handicap unions in our ability to improve members’ lives and to weaken the political power of public employees. We know the potential negative impacts that could come from the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus; however we are ready to take the best punch and deliver some blows ourselves to those that want to see firefighters and their unions weakened.”

The IAFF represents more than 85% of all professional firefighters and paramedics in the U.S. For more, see its website


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