WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed Thursday to hear a challenge to the so-called "fair share" fees public employee unions collect from non-members, posing a major threat to organized labor.
Unlike the past three times the court has considered similar cases, its five-member conservative majority appears poised to rule that workers opposed to union representation cannot be forced to pay for collective bargaining and other benefits.
The new case comes from Illinois and raises the same issues as a California case on which the court deadlocked, 4-4, following the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.
Since then, Justice Neil Gorsuch -- a Scalia acolyte -- has joined the court, likely giving conservatives the fifth vote they need to deal a potentially crushing blow to public unions' pocketbooks.
In fact, the court appears poised to deal another setback to organized labor in the term that opens next week. The first case to be heard will decide whether millions of employees who sign individual arbitration agreements, often unknowingly, can be barred from banding together with other workers. It, too, looks to be a 5-4 victory for employers.
Claire Prestel, associate general counsel for the Service Employees International Union, predicted that the term stands "a real chance of being a one-two punch against workers' rights."
Public employee worker Mark Janus is being represented by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. Its president, Mark Mix, said "We are now one step closer to freeing over 5 million public sector teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other employees from the injustice of being forced to subsidize a union as a condition of working for their own government."
Democrats and Republicans are poised for a Supreme Court fight about political line-drawing. The test case from Wisconsin has the potential to alter the balance of power across a country starkly divided between red and blue. (Sept. 27) AP
The group's argument -- that forcing workers to pay union dues is a form of compelled speech -- is the same one being used in another blockbuster case teed up for the high court's review this term.
In that case, Jack Phillips, a Colorado "cake artist," contends the state is compelling him to speak in favor of same-sex marriage because of an anti-discrimination law that would force him to create a wedding cake for a gay couple. Phillips has stopped making all wedding cakes while his case is pending.
After a sleepy term in which a shorthanded court mostly avoided controversy, its new conservative majority will tackle other major cases this term on voting rights, privacy rights, sports gambling — and, possibly, President Trump's revised immigration travel ban. The court's decisions could alter the powers of the president, state legislatures, corporations and police.