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    Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?

    challenge posed by Randy Myers 314 days 14 hours 1 minute ago

    Category: Politics
    Challenge Forum

    Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?

    Mark Janus, a child-support specialist for the state of Illinois, doesn’t like paying $45 a month to AFSCME, the union that represents him. So he’s suing. His case—Janus v. AFSCME—is expected to be decided this summer by the U.S. Supreme Court. It will be a controversial decision. Last year, down one member, the court deadlocked 4-4 on a virtually identical case. This year, Neil Gorsuch, the newest justice, will likely break the tie.

    Note that Janus is not technically paying union dues. Under existing law, nobody can be forced to join a union or pay its dues. However, where workers are represented by a union, they can be required to pay “fair share” or “agency” fees to help cover the union’s costs for negotiating contracts and representing workers in disputes with employers. The idea: keep people from getting a free ride for what the union provides.

    What agency fees don’t cover are costs associated with political activities or organizing employees into a union. Congress has said paying those costs could breach an employee’s constitutional right to free speech by forcing them to fund political activities they may not support.

    Janus claims everything a union does is inherently political. If the Supreme Court agrees, workers covered by union contracts everywhere could stop paying agency fees.

    Union supporters argue that the organization representing Janus, an arm of the National Right to Work Committee, which is supported by a number of big-name conservative donors, is simply trying to stamp out unions and lower costs for big business—at a time when corporations, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, can spend as much as they want politicking. (Unions can too. But if they take in fewer dues or fees, they would find it difficult.)

    It’s easy to argue that workers shouldn’t be required to pay for union activities they don’t support. It’s also easy to argue that if people feel that strongly about not supporting unions, they can work somewhere else.

    What do you think? Should the Supreme Court side with Janus or his union?

    Suggested Reading:

    “For the Third Time, Justices Take on Union-Fee Issue: In Plain English,” by Amy Howe

    “Janus v. AFSCME: 5 Things to Know,” by Carolyn Phenicie, The 74

    Re: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?


    I think the suit is an attempt to weaken unions so the top 1% billionaires of America could make more money off laborers. Unions are so important to middle class America. People who directly benefit from unions should be required to pay for the services the unions provide. The issue is bigger than a small payment- it's about the security of our unions and our middle/working class. If we don't take steps now to protect unions then we risk disappearing the middle class entirely. We've seen many instances in history where this leads to a revolution or full on war. I believe that those who are directly benefiting from unions- even if they are not a member of said union- should be required to pay so that those services can continue.

    -Monica M.

    Re: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?

    Hey Randy!

    This is a scary question, and I think Monica really hit on some strong points that I agree on. It's a little frightening to think about how current policies are being (or trying to be) implemented that only seem to really benefit the "1%", and dissolving unions completely fits into that category. Unions have always protected the working middle class, protecting members' interests and improving wages, hours and working conditions. They help keep large businesses in line by ensuring that their workers are treated fairly and compensated. I hope the unions are not dissolved, I don't even want to think of the consequences. That being said, I don't think a monthly fee for being a member is too much to ask for when there are so many benefits for being a part of one.



    Re: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?

    Hi Randy,

    If I wanted to make this about people's motives, I would say it's naive to assume that this is a critical point in the assault on unions. This would only prevent people from being forced to fund an organization they don't agree with. If we want to take a look at history, we will see that the frightening thing in the 1%/union relationship, it is the unions that are violent. More riots, revolts, and assaults are committed by them than the 1%.

    However, I prefer to look at the idea of rights and what is just. A person should not be forced to accept services and then pay an organization that they chose to not be affiliated with. This is similar to when a college professor writes their own textbook for the class and then forces the students to buy it when it is only available at the college bookstore. It is a service that you didn't ask for, that you don't get the choice of the supplier, and you have to pay for it. While the books are good for the class and the education is good, just about every student will agree that it is unfair for the professor to do that. Why is it fair for the unions to do that then? Is it just to take away someone's choice and does it violate their rights to force them to pay for a service they haven't requested?

    I would argue that everyone has the right to choose where their money goes and what service they choose to accept. Forcing a non-union member to take advantage of their services and then pay for it would violate that right.

    Re: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?

    Hi Randy,

    I agree that it is disheartening to see a union force someone into a decision or fee that he or she disagrees with, but I see it as a concept similar to taxes: anyone who works in the company or who lives in the nation consents to be protected and represented in exchange for a fee, and then everyone is treated with the same respect as one another. Like taxes, one may disagree with what the money goes toward or whether he/she desires to pay the fees in exchange for the union's services; however, if the majority's voices are heard throughout the union, then there would be an increased number of proposals and changes that would have the ability to be enacted and that would benefit the most people possible. Also, if a union does not ask for fees from everyone, a scenario might arise in which union members and non-union members see each other differently and judge one another based on contrasting viewpoints. So, all in all, I would side with Janus' union.

    Thanks for the post!

    Re: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?

    I agree that being required to pay agency fees to a union whose politics a worker doesn't support would be a violation of free speech. However, unions do need financial support in order to provide the services and lobbying that they do for the benefit of their employees. Therefore, I think that if the Supreme Court rules that workers don't have to pay agency fees, it would do more harm than good because not all union political agendas are bad. I believe that if an employee ultimately doesn't agree with the agenda of their union, then they should find employment elsewhere. Because afterall, isn't it a waste of everyone's time if you are working for something that you do not believe in?

    Re: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?

    Hi Randy,

    The Janus case will have the same impact as Right-to-Work legislation. Although the Janus case is about the fundamental right of not forcing anyone to pay fees, which are the near equivalent dues rate that is established by unions, it will weaken collective bargaining power, just as RTW laws are intended to do. The drawback for unions is not so much that they will receive less money via dues/agency fees, but that they are still required to represent all workers in the bargaining unit whether they want to join the union or not or be in violation of federal labor law per the National Labor Relations Act. Those that do not pay still reap all of the benefits of full dues paying members.That forces the unions to have to represent workers for free with depleted resources. If a substantial number of workers opt out of membership, the unions will likely provide less efficient service that ultimately result in inferior contracts. They also will not have the resources to cover legal costs involved with unjust disciplinary cases that go to arbitration. Although plenty of union leaders have been found guilty of corruption, these laws perpetuate corporate greed.

    I would side with the unions in this case only because they would still have to represent those workers that do not pay. I see both sides and think there is a better solution.

    What I think should happen would require unions, politicians, and corporations to put their own monetary interests aside. There is common ground as all parties claim to advocate for the rights of workers. With that in mind, I think that workers should have a choice of whether to join; however, in return unions would not be required to represent those workers that opt out of membership. It would force unions to sustain membership levels on their merits while unsatisfied workers could opt out and negotiate for themselves if they choose. Ultimately, that would eliminate the argument of fairness from both sides in regards to forced dues and representing workers for free.

    Re: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?

    Hi Randy,

    In the second article you referenced, Janus was quoted as saying "the union voice is not my voice. The union’s fight is not my fight.”

    As an Illinois native, I fully understand how corrupt the government is in the state of Illinois, so I can relate with him on some level. Four out of the last seven governors in that state did prison time (some are still serving).

    However, being in a labor union is a choice that each person makes. If you want to receive the benefits of the union, such as the union representing you during layoffs, in situations where disciplinary actions are required, to support fair hours, negotiate working conditions, ensure job security, etc, you need to pay the dues. Those dues are what the union uses to represent their employees. Union workers typically make more money than non-union workers in the same role. People choose to pay these dues for a variety of reasons. Union dues are also tax deductible. If you don't want to pay the union dues, get out of the union.

    Having worked in various union and non-union manufacturing facilities in both engineering and management roles, I've seen the protection offered for union employees by the union first hand. I've also seen how unions can make it very difficult to implement change for companies. Many times, this is actually positive change that they're preventing. I think that if the Supreme Court rules with Janus, in the near future, we will see unions dissolve completely. I personally can see both the pros and cons of labor unions. I don't think they're as necessary as they were in previous years. Basically, by not paying $45 tax deductible dollars per month, Janus is saying he doesn't want the protection of the union, but still wants all of the benefits. That's the definition of entitlement. He might as well just quit the union if he doesn't agree with their terms. If the Supreme Court rules with Janus, I think it will be the beginning of the end for labor unions all together.

    Thanks for a great post and thought provoking topic!

    Re: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?

    Hey Randy,
    This is a tough debate. I am not a union worker nor will I probably ever been in a career that is protected by a union. That being said, my husband is and some of the benefits from him being in the union are absolutely outstanding. In his role, he needs extra protection due to the nature of his work. I have also seen his union donate lots of money to families in need and constantly work to help to provide for its members who are going through a difficult time.

    He also sees people abuse those benefits and constantly file grievances for very dumb and minor things in order to try and work the system. It certainly is a double edge sword and for the most part, I think the unions are in place to protect and benefit workers. It's the people who try and find a way to work the system that give it a bad name.


    Re: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?

    Hello Randy!

    I think that it is not right to make someone pay into something whether it be a union, some kind of membership, or something else of this nature if the individual does not want to...They may disagree from the principles of the union. I belong to a teacher's union. I don't agree with everything they talk about or preach. I do like being apart of the union however because I know that it is comprised of other teachers and we share a common goal of educating our students. If it comes to people being forced into something they don't believe in, it does not make the union stronger just because they have more money. A strong union is the people involved and if they agree with the principles argued.

    I was thinking of leaving the teachers union I belong to but then decided it was because I wasn't really involved. I didn't really attend any of the meetings. I decided that I should become more involved. I started to go to a few more meetings and have really enjoyed do so.. I know for a fact, that if I were pressured into joining or forced to pay dues to belong to the union, I would not want to be a member. I choose to be in the union and therefore a little portion of my money go towards that.

    Thank you for this forum!


    Re: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?

    Hi Randy,

    This is a really tough topic for me. My parents are very conservative politically. I once worked for a school system, and my father was adamant about how union dues were bad and theft, etc. Because of his strong opinions, this was a subject I intentionally avoided forming an opinion on. It's a bit frightening to openly disagree with a very vocal relative.

    I agree with the thought that no one should be forced to pay into anything. That said, if a person benefits from the union they should have to pay into the system. You can't have your cake and eat it too, as the saying goes. If he opts out of paying into the union, he should thus not receive the same benefits the union members do. I also agree strongly with Tom above me; sometimes by not understanding something (or in this case, not being an active participant), that something seems much less essential. I think it'd be unfair to require someone to be present at the meetings, but I agree that attending such meetings may well reveal how helpful the particular union is.

    The bottom line for me is that I don't think dues should be forced on someone. Again, Tom above me sums this up well- it would deter me from wanting to be a member if I was forced in. I think unions in general are there for a reason, and do good for their members. I think there are areas that are not quite as helpful that might be overlooked, but I do think unions are overall good. I think if one opts out, then they opt out of all the benefits along with the payment.

    Thanks for this question, I enjoyed coming up with an opinion on a previously off-limits topic.

    Re: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?

    I am so glad that I am not on the Supreme Court and I have tremendous respect for those who are. This is a tough decision. I think that if you receive the benefits of the union, you should pay for them but I also think that you should have the option to opt out and not receive those benefits. For instance, I have a friend that works for a grocery store that is unionized, but since he is really young and he has few hours due to being in high school and labor laws, he really gets no real benefit from the union yet his dues take up almost a whole paycheck. And yes, I often wonder why he is still working there, but we are lucky that the economy is getting healthier and jobs are more available. What is the opposite were true and he had no other options for employment?

    I think we need unions for all the reasons mentioned above, but like a lot of organizations, when they develop a lot of power, they get out of control and seem to abuse that power.

    Thanks for the post!


    Re: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?

    I stand with Ratio's opinion on this subject.


    Re: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?

    Hello, everyone.

    I believe there are some key components being left out of the discussion here. For starters, we haven't yet touched upon the reason unions and union dues exist. Unions are essentially the enforcers of federal labor laws, which were intentionally created to address the inherent power disparity that exists between employees and employers. Their very existence is legally required and their subsistence must be maintained for the sake of the worker. Second, it's important to remember that unions DO provide non-political services. Union dues often cover pension, health, and welfare funds and well as legal representation services for workers on an individual basis.

    Unions are complicated: they are both regulatory and regulated, which makes them particularly difficult to deal with when legal conflicts emerge. The entitlements and restrictions placed on unions by the federal government in quid pro quo agreements make the debate over unions dues nothing short of paradoxical. Some try to argue that a union is simply a special-interest group, but I find this far too simplistic. I frame this issue by Justice Kagan's dissent on Harris: "[There's] an essential distinction between unions and special-interest organizations generally. The law compels unions to represent—and represent fairly— every worker in a bargaining unit, regardless whether they join or contribute to the union. That creates a collective action problem of far greater magnitude than in the typical interest group." Workers have the right to form collective bargaining groups or to refrain from doing so. Therefore, unions are intrinsically linked to considerations and decisions of the collective group rather than to the individual. This is not unusual in a utilitarian society.

    Requiring fees for certain expressive activities could be in violation of a person's First Amendment rights to refrain from associating with a group's mission, values, slogan, etc. But if we agree that unions dues are not covering political activities (which they are not), then we are essentially requiring people to pay for their own protection, which is something the federal government does frequently under the power of the Commerce Clause.

    Re: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?


    No offense to anyone in or out of the Union but in my opinion.....Yes they should. They chose to join the Unione knowing how and what the Union is about and besides the more then bejnefit as well as their family for generations in some case after theirs anyways.


    Re: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?

    Hello Randy,

    Whether or not one "agrees" with unions as organizations, the pay increases, benefits, and other protections that they receive because of union efforts are theirs wether or not they agree with unions, therefore, membership should not be optional.

    Monica's points are incredibly strong on this as well, so I'd like to commend her on that!

    Have a good one!

    - Anna