Janus v. AFSCME

Justia Summary

If a union is designated as the exclusive representative of Illinois public sector employees it represents even those who do not join; individual employees may not be represented by another agent or negotiate directly with their employer. Nonmembers are required to pay an “agency fee,” a percentage of the full union dues to cover union expenditures attributable to activities “germane” to the union’s collective bargaining activities, but may not cover the union’s political and ideological projects. The union sets the agency fee annually and sends nonmembers notices explaining the basis for the fee. Janus, a state employee represented by a public-sector union, challenged the constitutionality of the state law authorizing agency fees. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his suit.

The Supreme Court reversed, overruling its 1977 holding, “Abood,” as inconsistent with First Amendment principles. Illinois law compelled nonconsenting workers to subsidize the speech of other private speakers and cannot be justified by asserted interests in “labor peace,” which can readily be achieved through less restrictive means, or in avoiding “the risk of free riders,” because unions are willing to represent nonmembers without agency fees. Interests in bargaining with an adequately funded agent and improving the efficiency of the workforce do not suffice; unions can be effective without agency fees. The union speech at issue does not cover only matters of private concern but covers critically important public matters such as the state’s budget crisis, taxes, and collective bargaining issues related to education, child welfare, healthcare, and minority rights. The government’s proffered interests must, therefore, justify the heavy burden of agency fees on nonmembers’ First Amendment interests. They do not. The uncertain status of Abood, known to unions for years; Abood’s lack of clarity; the short-term nature of collective-bargaining agreements; and the ability of unions to protect themselves if an agency-fee provision was crucial to operations, undermine the force of reliance on that decision. States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees.

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