Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Trump Administration Opposes Mandatory Union Fees at Supreme Court

  • Supreme Court filing is shift from Obama administration stance
  • Court could block public-sector unions from demanding fees

The Trump administration called on the U.S. Supreme Court to let millions of public-sector workers refuse to pay union fees, shifting the federal government’s position on an issue that could undercut the labor movement’s finances and clout.

In court papers filed Wednesday in an Illinois case, U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco said the court should overturn a 1977 ruling that lets public-sector unions in 22 states demand fees from workers who aren’t members. Those so-called agency fees are designed to pay for union representation on such matters as pay negotiations.

Francisco argued that mandatory fees violate the Constitution’s First Amendment, forcing workers to support unions that don’t share their priorities on matters of public importance.

"Public employees’ strong interest in freedom of speech on such matters outweighs the government’s interest in authorizing public-sector unions to collect agency fees that they do not need to fulfill their responsibilities," Francisco argued.

Union leaders say that collecting what they call "fair-share fees" ensures that workers can push for higher wages and better job conditions. If the fees weren’t mandatory, unions say workers could become free riders, benefiting from representation without paying for it.

The court almost resolved the issue in 2016 before Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death left the justices split 4-4 in a California case. The Obama administration had urged the court to uphold agency fees and reaffirm the 1977 ruling.

The court is hearing an appeal from Mark Janus, an Illinois government employee challenging a state law that allows agency fees. The court agreed in September to hear the case and probably will hear arguments in late February, with a ruling by June.

The case is Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, 16-1466.

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