A class-action lawsuit has been filed by seven California teachers seeking to win back paid union fees in response to the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME. That decision found that public-sector employees cannot be compelled to pay union dues against their will. But California teachers are not the only ones who are seeking reimbursement of the union dues they were forced to pay. Lawsuits are being filed across the United States in light of the recent Supreme Court decision. Four of the seven California teachers involved in the class-action suit previously fought against paying unwanted union dues but were unsuccessful. In 2016, the SCOTUS split 4-4 after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death and were unable to issue a decision on the case.
History of Unions
Labor unions can be traced back to the eighteenth century and Europe’s industrial revolution. There was suddenly a huge influx of new laborers into the workplace, and these workers needed representation to ensure their rights were protected. Perhaps the most famous of America’s trade and labor union is the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which was founded in 1886. At its peak, the AFL had about 1.4 million members. The AFL is known for successfully negotiating benefits for workers including wage increases and regulations ensuring workplace safety. During World War II, the AFL underwent an expansion — along with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO); the two merged in 1955. Union membership peaked around 1970, and while private sector membership has steadily declined since then, public sector unions continue to maintain a strong presence and stand up for workers’ rights across the U.S.
The Janus Case
In Janus, the Supreme Court overturned a 1977 opinion and found that it was a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to mandate dues from union members who disagreed with their public-sector union. The most recent SCOTUS decision will affect as many as 22 states that permitted mandatory union dues for public-sector employees. The remaining 28 states, referred to as “right to work” states, had already passed laws prohibiting the practice. These laws have been seen as controversial, as critics claim they stifle the bargaining power of unions. Nonetheless, Georgia is a “right to work” state, meaning that no individual can be forced to become or remain a union member as a condition of employment, or pay dues to a union against his or her will.
While the Janus opinion is a win for those not wanting to join a union or pay union dues, the decision does not require retroactive repayment of union dues. According to data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer than 11% of American workers were part of a union in 2017. That number is nearly half of what it was in 1983. With the new laws in place, that number is set to decline even further.