The U.S. Supreme Court issued a major blow to organized labor that’ll have an impact on public employees in Missouri.
The high bench ruled Wednesday that government workers who choose not to join a union cannot be charged for the cost of collective bargaining, typically referred to as “fair share fees”.
The decision affects state and local public employees in Missouri. It essentially makes Missouri a right to work state for public sector workers regardless of how an upcoming August public vote turns out.
Missouri lawmakers passed a right to work law in 2017 but it was held up when labor groups collected the needed signatures to force it on the ballot. Right to work allows non-union employees to bypass “fair share fees” that unions collect to negotiate worker pay and benefits.
Jeremy Cady with the pro-business group Americans for Prosperity Missouri issued a statement praising the Supreme Court decision, saying it “confirms that Missouri’s choice to become a right-to-work state was the correct one”.
“Not only has right-to-work garnered statewide grassroots support, but now it has support from the highest law of the land,” said Cady.
In the case before the high bench, Mark Janus – a public employee in Illinois (not a right to work state) – challenged the constitutionality of the law that required him to pay fair share union fees, arguing it violated his right to free speech because collective bargaining with the government affects public policy issues and thus is inherently political in nature.
The argument’s reference to government may have offered the justices a new wrinkle because the Supreme Court had previously outlawed the use of fair share fees by unions for political activity or lobbying in 1977.
Dan Mehan, President of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, called the Supreme Court’s decision “a positive step toward ensuring workers have a choice when it comes to supporting a labor union”.
The state’s largest public-sector unions slammed the ruling.
Mike Louis, President of the Missouri ALL-CIO characterized it as an effort by billionaires and corporations to rig the economy against working people.
Danny Homan is President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 61 which includes Iowa and Missouri.
He said the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling with its conservative wing prevailing was an attack on organized labor. “This decision has absolutely nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with attempting to destroy unions – the most effective force to propel working people into the middle class,” said Homan.
AFSCME represents 15,000 Missouri public employees, roughly 10,000 of which work for the state.
Organized labor has a relative stronghold in the public-sector where it otherwise has a diminishing presence. More than a third of the public-sector workforce is unionized, compared with less than 7 percent in the private sector.
A 2015 survey by the AFSCME found that if fair share fees were no longer mandatory, 15 percent of employees would stop paying them, while 35 percent would continue to pay. The balance of workers were “on the fence.”
If the vote August 7th to make Missouri a right to work state fails, the Supreme Court decision will make a bill signed into law this month in Missouri partially obsolete. The new state law that will require employee consent before public unions can deduct union dues would no longer apply to non-union workers.
27 states have passed right-to-work laws over the years while five – Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Kentucky – have done so since 2012.