ANALYSIS | What Janus means for teachers unions

By Julie Underwood, Phi Delta Kappan

The Supreme Court will soon issue a ruling on whether public employees, including teachers, can be required to pay union fees. 

Nearly every U.S. Supreme Court case is significant, but this year brings a remarkable case with the potential of overturning 40-year-old precedent and dramatically changing public employment law. On February 26, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, a case involving public employee union fees. Although the parties are neither educators nor schools, this case is of interest to all unions who represent public workers, including teachers and other public school employees. It boils down to whether the government, as an employer, can require nonunion workers to contribute to the union. 

Unions at the Supreme Court 

The Janus case has a certain déjà vu feel to it. In January 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, 136 S.Ct. 1083 (2016), another case involving public employee union fees. There, Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other teachers who were not union members argued they should not be forced to pay “fair share” fees to the California Teachers Association. Fair share fees are the costs nonunion members are required to pay to the union to offset the union’s cost of representing the entire bargaining unit during negotiations and related discussions. The nonunion members who brought the case argued that the union expressed views with which they did not agree and that they should not be required to contribute funds to the group. However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held in favor of the union, basing its decision on the unanimous 1997 U.S. Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. 

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