New Supreme Court Decision and Federal Employees?

Jul 3, 2018


The Supreme Court has issued a decision in the case Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, et al., concerning payment of fees to a union that represents employees in state and local governments.


The decision, issued on June 27, 2018, overturns a 1977 case (Abood v. Detroit Board of Education). In the new decision, the court held public-employee contracts requiring workers to pay union dues is no longer the law of the land. This decision will have significant ramifications and unions won’t be happy.

It means that many unions ranging from the American Federal of State, County and Municipal Employees and the National Education Association will lose a lot of money. Ramifications include these unions, which have provided money, resources, and campaign workers, will no longer have the same monetary resources available. This ruling impacts about 5 million employees in 24 states and Washington D.C.

Here’s a summary of how the Supreme Court viewed the case:

“States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from non-compensating employees. The First Amendment is violated when money is taken from non-compensating employees for a public-sector union; employees must choose to support the union before everything is taken from them. Accordingly, neither an agency nor any other form of payment to a public-sector union may be deducted from an employee, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”

So, What About Federal Employees?

Federal employees will not be impacted by this ruling. In the federal government, employees cannot be required to pay dues or feed to a union if they don’t consent to do so. This model is used in most states, however, in 24 states and D.C., government agencies agreed to “union-security agreements”. These agreements require employees to join the union or pay a fee for services provided by a union. These core services include negotiating labor agreements and enforcing these agreements through a negotiated grievance procedure or other legal means such as filing an unfair labor practice.


Here’s a look at how the labor relations system works.

When an election is held in an agency to determine whether a union (and which union) will represent employees, the winner is determined by the majority of votes. In some agencies, the decision ends up being made by a small number of employees.

All employees are then subject to the requirements of any collective bargaining agreement that’s negotiated, and the union speaks for all employees in the unit—including those who voted against the union.

“Fair-Share Fees”

“Union-security agreements” aren’t allowed in the federal government. Even is a union wins in an election, employees don’t have to join the union and pay dues or pay a fee to the union for its services. These are referred to as “fair-share fees” and unions argue they’re necessary to prevent “free riders”—employees who receive the benefits and job security a union contract may offer but don’t pay any money for these benefits.

Union Reaction to Decision

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) wrote a press release asking federal employees to sign up for dues withholding in their agencies. The argument from AFGE is the same used by state and local unions:

“When union members pay to negotiate a contract for their workplace, everyone who’s covered by that contract takes home higher pay and benefits, has greater job security, enjoys improved health and safety standards, and gets help in settling workplace disputes. If you’re covered by the union contract but you don’t belong to the union, it’s time to join your union and pay for the benefits you receive—because those benefits could vanish tomorrow unless workers take a stand and fight for their rights at the worksite.”


Again, federal employees won’t be affected directly by this new decision by the Supreme Court. Federal employees were, and still are, free to join a union and pay dues if they wish to do so. They don’t have to join or pay dues if they don’t wish to.

The bigger impact will be felt at the national level. The flow of money into union treasuries where unions represent employees are state and local government with a “union-security agreement” will decrease as the impact of this decision is felt through the government. Source of funds for candidates will also decrease.

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