The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument today in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, the third attempt by wealthy anti-labor interests to overrule Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), and public-sector “agency shop” arrangements under the First Amendment.
Amy Howe at SCOTUSblog has the history and legal posture of this case in Argument preview: For the third time, justices take on union-fee issue:
In 1977, in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that government employees like Janus who do not belong to a union can be required to pay a fee – often known as a “fair share” or “agency” fee – to cover the union’s costs to negotiate a contract that applies to all public employees, including those who are not union members. The justices reasoned then that allowing the fees would help to avoid both labor strife and the prospect that nonmembers could be “free-riders” who benefit from the union’s collective bargaining efforts without having to pay for them.
But in recent years, conservative think tanks proposing expansive (novel) interpretations of the First Amendment well beyond the original meaning and purpose intended by the Founding Fathers, financed by conservative billionaires, are using the First Amendment in much the same way they used “substantive due process” during the Lochner era (circa 1897–1937) to strike down minimum wage and labor laws to protect “freedom of contract.” While the Lochner era approach has long since been discredited and abandoned by the court, the right-wing keeps trying to bring it back and to revive it. See George Will, Why liberals fear the ‘Lochner’ decision (2011).
An example of this is the Illinois Policy Institute, one prong of a broader campaign against public-sector unions, backed by some of the biggest donors on the right. Behind a Key Anti-Labor Case, a Web of Conservative Donors:
It is an effort that will reach its apex on Monday, when the Supreme Court hears a case that could cripple public-sector unions by allowing the workers they represent to avoid paying fees.