News & Politics

Supreme Court Janus Decision Deals Major Blow to Unions As Billionaires Win Big

This is not just an attack on a few specific unions. It’s an attack on unions as institutions

Photo Credit: Conversations with Bill Kristol

The anti-worker right, bankrolled by conservative billionaires, has finally gotten the victory it’s been looking for through years and repeated well-funded Supreme Court challenges to a 40-year-old precedent. Janus v. AFSCME once again challenged the requirement that people represented by public sector unions who choose not to join the union still have to pay a fair share fee to cover the direct costs for representing them. That is, they’re paying the costs of collective bargaining and other things from which they personally benefit, not for any union political activity. But Republicans and their wealthy donors saw an attack on even that fair share fee as a way to weaken unions. And now, on the third try in recent years, with Neil Gorsuch on the court, the right got its win. 

Viciously anti-worker Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion he’s been waiting to write since he joined the Supreme Court. The claim is that being required to pay a fee for representation that materially benefits a person is a violation of that person’s free speech when done by public sector unions, because in those cases the government is involved. The decision came along exactly the five to four split you expect: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Gorsuch joined Alito, while Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer dissented.

Let’s be clear that this is not just an attack on a few specific unions. It’s an attack on worker power and on unions as institutions that anchor a great deal of the progressive movement. The case may bear the name of Mark Janus, a single worker, but it’s the culmination of big spending and legal firepower coming from the big-money corporate right. This is one more historically bad Supreme Court decision to mourn in this term filled with them. 

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Laura Clawson is the Labor editor at Daily Kos Labor, and a contributing editor at Daily Kos.