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Janus decision creates future challenges for public sector unions, political sociologist says

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

LAWRENCE — Wednesday's divided U.S. Supreme Court decision that nonunion workers cannot be forced to pay fees to unions that represent them in bargaining will likely tie the hands of many unions, according to a University of Kansas political sociologist.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Janus v. AFSCME, which was one of the most hotly contested and most-watched cases of the court's current term.

David Smith, professor of sociology, is available to discuss implications of the ruling. His research portfolio takes place at the intersection of political sociology, political psychology and political economy. He is currently studying the attitudes of supporters of President Donald Trump.

"The Janus decision weakens the labor movement as a whole, because the public sector unions have been exceptionally strong. Much has been said about the decline of organized labor in recent decades, but unions that represent public sector workers, such as teachers, fire fighters, and others, have remained uncommonly strong. Now we'll see if that remains true, under more trying circumstances," Smith said.

Because labor unions still represent more than 10 million people in the nation, their ability to respond to the ruling should not be underestimated, he added.

"But the Janus decision ties their hands. Until now, unions have been allowed by previous Supreme Court decisions to collect 'fair-share fees' from nonmembers in units they represent in collective bargaining over pay and benefits," Smith said. "Those fees pay only for costs associated with bargaining, not for politics. But the Janus decision now allows workers to opt out of paying those fees, even though they will continue to reap the benefits of the union's collective bargaining and the union dues paid by their co-workers."