The U.S. Supreme Court Building
The U.S. Supreme Court Building

A right wing attempt to severe­ly weak­en pub­lic sec­tor unions end­ed in fail­ure today when the Supreme Court announced in a one-sen­tence rul­ing that it would not over­turn its 1977 deci­sion allow­ing such unions to charge non-mem­bers agency fees to cov­er the cost of rep­re­sent­ing them in col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing negotiations.

Pre­sum­ably, the remain­ing mem­bers of the court’s right wing bloc (John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Ali­to, Antho­ny Kennedy) desired to set a new prece­dent and over­turn the 1977 deci­sion, but were effec­tive­ly stopped by the pro­gres­sive bloc (Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg, Sonia Sotomay­or, Ele­na Kagan, Stephen Breyer).

With Jus­tice Antonin Scalia no longer on the bench, the right wing bloc lacked the five votes it need­ed to decide the case in favor of the Repub­li­can Par­ty and its right wing allies, who des­per­ate­ly want­ed a rul­ing out of the Court that would great­ly weak­en unions like the Nation­al Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion (NEA) or AFSCME, which gen­er­al­ly sup­port the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty and pro­gres­sive causes.

When pub­lic sec­tor unions nego­ti­ate con­tracts, they do so on behalf of entire groups of work­ers, not just those who wish to belong to the union. It is there­fore com­plete­ly appro­pri­ate and rea­son­able that the work­ers who ben­e­fit from those nego­ti­a­tions pay a fair share ser­vice fee to the union.

U.S. Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray applaud­ed the out­come, which affirmed a rul­ing by the 9th Cir­cuit Court of Appeals leav­ing intact the cur­rent agency fee system.

“This is good news for work­ers, unions, fam­i­lies, and the econ­o­my,” Mur­ray said. “With the low­er court rul­ing being affirmed by a dead­locked Supreme Court, this lat­est assault on the abil­i­ty of teach­ers, nurs­es, and oth­er pub­lic ser­vants to orga­nize and make their voic­es heard in the work­place has been beat­en back.

“The econ­o­my is only tru­ly strong when it is grow­ing from the mid­dle out, not the top down—and unions are key in mak­ing that hap­pen. When unions are strong, work­ers can fight for high­er wages, more oppor­tu­ni­ties, and greater eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty for them­selves and their fam­i­lies. Many Repub­li­cans are going to keep work­ing to tilt the scales in favor of the biggest cor­po­ra­tions and the wealth­i­est Amer­i­cans by mak­ing it hard­er for work­ers to band togeth­er and fight to improve and pro­tect their wages and ben­e­fits. But as a nation, we should not turn our backs on empow­er­ing work­ers through col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing and mak­ing sure that work­ers have a strong voice at the table—and this deci­sion today upholds that principle.”

“While a dead­locked Supreme Court hap­pened to result in a pos­i­tive out­come in this case, this is one more reminder that we need a ful­ly func­tion­ing Supreme Court to pro­tect the rights of work­ers, women, and fam­i­lies across the coun­try. Now that the Pres­i­dent has nom­i­nat­ed Judge Mer­rick Gar­land, Sen­ate Repub­li­cans should do their jobs by giv­ing him all due con­sid­er­a­tion, a hear­ing, and a vote.”

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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