A divided U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday dealt a blow to organized labor, ruling 5-4 that government employee unions cannot force nonmember workers to pay bargaining fees.
In doing so, the court’s conservative majority discarded a four-decade-old decision that allowed states to ask public employees to pay union fees, even if the workers opted not to join.
Reactions across Montana came quickly, with conservative groups praising the decision as an “historic day.” But the AFL-CIO – Montana’s largest labor union – blasted the decision, saying it discards “decades of common-sense precedent.”
“A bare majority of the court, over the vigorous dissent of four justices, has conceded to the dark web of corporations and wealthy donors who wish to take away the freedoms of working people,” said AFL-CIO President Bob Funk. “Until it is overturned, this decision will be a political stain on what is intended to be the most honorable, independent body in the world. But more importantly, it will further empower the corporate elites in their efforts to thwart the aspirations of millions of working people standing together for a better life.”
In a statement issues shortly after the court’s ruling, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, panned the decision, saying it weakens the collective bargaining rights of working families.
Tester opposed the nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch, who cast the deciding vote in Wednesday’s decision.
“This bad decision is a punch in the gut to Montana working families,” Tester said. “It paves the way for Montanans to work more and make less money, it invites the deterioration of workplace protections, and it rolls back much of what Montanans have been fighting for over the past 100 years. I will relentlessly defend Montana workers against this threat to our livelihoods and to our way of life.”
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito delivered the majority’s 49-page opinion, which overturned a 1977 decision upholding a Michigan law that allowed a public employer to require employees who did not join a union to pay fees because they benefited from the union’s collective bargaining agreement.
The majority concluded that forcing nonunion members to pay union fees violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of public concern.
The Montana Chapter of Americans for Prosperity praised the majority decision.
“This ruling upholds a fundamental constitutional principle,” said David Herbst, director of the organization’s Montana chapter. “It is great news for Montana’s public workers who will no longer be forced to fund political speech to keep their jobs.”
Justice Elena Kagan joined Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor in issuing the court’s minority opinion.
Despite efforts by conservatives to weaken organized labor, Funk said the approval ratings of unions stands at a 14-year high. More workers are organizing and taking collective action than has been seen in years, he added.
“Working families know the best way to get a raise, better benefits and a voice on the job is through a union contract,” Funk said. “The corporate narrative of the labor movement’s downfall is being dismantled by working people every single day.”