Today, the Supreme Court handed down a 5–4 decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31 that profoundly affects the future of workers’ rights, democratic decision making in the workplace, and the preservation of good, middle-class jobs in public employment. Overturning 40 years of precedent, the Court elevated the objections of a minority over the democratically determined choices of the majority of workers and prohibited state and local government workers from negotiating collective bargaining agreements with fair share fee arrangements. In other words, this decision bars unions from requiring workers who benefit from union representation to pay their fair share of that representation. As a result, workers who wish to join in union will be forced to operate with fewer and fewer resources. This will lead to reduced power—at the bargaining table and in the political process. It will have profound implications for not just the 6.8 million state and local government workers covered by a union contract, but all 17.3 million state and local government workers and indeed for every working person throughout the country.
Today’s decision is the result of litigation financed by a small group of foundations with ties to the largest and most powerful corporate lobbies. Janus is the third case on this issue the Court has considered in five years. Today, these billionaire-backed organizations finally got their decision, succeeding in advancing an agenda that weakens the bargaining power of workers. The result will be a reduction in state and local government workers’ wages and job quality as well as in the critical public services they provide.
It is likely that today’s decision will lead to greater instability in state and local workforces. The recent teachers’ strikes in states like West Virginia and Oklahoma provide important examples of the effect of denying workers the right to effective collective bargaining. As more workers are forced to resort to tactics outside of traditional collective bargaining to preserve their wages and benefits, they will do so under the court’s newly conceived First Amendment doctrine, which will undoubtedly evolve in the coming months and years as additional cases are filed challenging its outer limits. This may prove problematic for those determined to strip workers of their rights—they may ultimately usher in a new era where workers in this country rediscover their voice.