SEATTLE -- A U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued Wednesday means hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians working in the public sector will no longer be required to pay union fees.
In 5-4 decision, the justices ruled against an Illinois law that forced public-sector workers to pay fees that go to collective bargaining. The decision does not affect private-sector unions.
The plaintiff in the case is an Illinois state employee, but there is some Washington involvement in the landmark decision.
The Freedom Foundation is an Olympia-based nonprofit that helped the plaintiff, Mark Janus, go after the unions. They won in a very big way.
Moving forward, the Freedom Foundation says it will continue to educate public-sector workers about the decision.
“We anticipate unions are going to throw up roadblocks to prevent people from resigning memberships wherever they can,” said Maxford Nelson, the Freedom Foundation's director of labor policy.
Nelsen said he and others in his group plan on going door-to-door, like they’ve done in previous campaigns, to reach out to teachers, police officers and other government employees so that they now have a choice whether to pay into a union.
“This is by far the biggest labor case the Supreme court has had in decades, biggest advance for worker freedom in a generation,” Nelsen said.
Opponents say the Janus case is an attack on workers fighting for economic advancement and equity. But the Freedom Foundation says many workers were forced to pay for political causes and campaigns they didn’t believe in. Historically, many unions have supported Democrats.
“There is no limitation of how the unions spend the money of these folks. Many unions tend to be very political, they spend large amounts of money directly engaging in political activity,” Nelsen said.
Q13 News asked Nelsen if the Freedom Foundation was making the issue a political fight in hopes of helping Republicans. Nelsen replied that his organization's fight is not about politics but fundamental rights.
“We believe strongly, as a matter of principle, that’s it’s wrong in all cases, that it’s wrong to make people financially support things they disagree with,” Nelsen said.
The Washington Policy Center, a free-market think-tank based in Seattle, agrees with those fundamental principles.
“We celebrate the fact that we have the right to make a decision. I don’t see any reason for people to be outraged that individual rights were affirmed,” said David Boze, communications director for the Washington Policy Center.
Boze said their WPC poll showed that a majority of union members in Washington liked being represented so he doesn’t see a mass exodus happening. But what he does see is union leaders now having to make strong arguments on why members should pay into a union’s coffer.
“Unions will have to persuade people instead of forcing people to be a part of them,” Boze said.
The Supreme Court said that mandatory union dues violated First Amendment rights.