The world of labor unions received a nasty jolt when the Supreme Court issued a ruling that reversed a precedent that had been set 41 years ago and gave public employees the right to withdraw from unions and deny them financial support by not paying dues..
It is not clear what the effect of the long-awaited decision will be in the state of New York, which is one of the leading pro-union states. But the unions and their detractors have been wary from the time the ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME case was issued. It overturned a decision made in 1977 that had permitted unions to charge dues to people who are not members for non-political objectives.
According to Pace Law School’s Professor Randolph McLaughlin, unions ought to be worried about the decision, although its impact might not be clear straightaway.
McLaughlin, who teaches labor law, opines that it could spell doom for the most important unions- adding that the court has allowed free riders to enjoy the benefits that union members get without having to pay anything.
The following is a recap of what the court decision means and some of the recurring issues that might develop in the months or years to come.
The known facts:
The unionized workers in New York, comprising of 23 %( which is equal to 1.9 million) of the total number of public employees in the state will not have to pay fees anymore if they choose to leave their union.
Expecting the Janus decision, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York state legislature made amendments to the public employee law in the state budget of 2018-19 and enacted it in April. The amendments bolster the powers of unions by permitting local chapters to choose whether to represent people who are non-members in disciplinary hearings, evaluations or other situations. In addition, it permits unions to set a particular time period for membership withdrawal. For instance, members of the New York State United Teachers union may only quit the union in August.
Conservative-backed groups such as the Americans for Fair Treatment organizations and the Mackinac Center are seeking out public workers in New York (which is the most unionized state in the US) and giving them instructions relating to how they can withdraw from unions. These organizations intend to invest millions of dollars educating workers about their new right of withdrawal from unions.
But unions still remain the sole representatives of workers when it comes to collective bargaining-and the Janus decision does not change this. To put it in another way, the union will still represent you in matters pertaining to collective bargaining even though you are not a member of the union.
What is unknown:
While Unions might lose revenues to the tune of millions of dollars as a result of members withdrawing, the impact that this will have on the power that they yield in New York is not clear. For instance, the New York Teachers Union ,a body where membership dues account for 80% of its revenues, has in the past few months mentioned that it will cut costs and shift its resources. But it is unclear how this will affect its annual spending on lobbying.
Under state law, unions can decide whether or not to represent nonmembers in particular matters such as disciplinary hearings. But what the unions will do in such cases is ill-defined or if the procedures for handling non-members will be part of the collective bargaining negotiations.
Will the amendments to the New York state public employee law be contested in court? It is too early to tell. However, some people feel that the changes that empower the unions to drive the withdrawal process may interfere with an individual’s capacity to withdraw their membership. This might appear to go against the new precedent created by the Janus decision.