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Public-Sector Union Fees Don’t Violate the First Amendment

AFSCME Demonstration
AFSCME Demonstration
David Cole,
ACLU Legal Director
Amanda Shanor,
Staff Attorney,
American Civil Liberties Union
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February 23, 2018

This piece originally appeared at The Nation.

Can state employees who decline to join a union in their workplace be required to pay fees to support the union’s work? On February 26, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, a case pitting the First Amendment claims of dissenting employees against the interests of public-sector unions. Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee who opposes the union, argues that a state law allowing public-sector unions to charge nonmembers fees for collective-bargaining activities violates his First Amendment rights. Were the Court to accept this argument, it would severely undermine such unions, by requiring them to provide services free of charge to any worker who says he objects to the union. Regardless of what you think about unions, such a ruling would turn First Amendment law on its head.

The American Civil Liberties Union is second to none in defending the First Amendment rights of free speech, association, and assembly. We protect the right to associate and the right not to be compelled to associate against one’s will. But state laws allowing unions to charge fees for services that they must provide to all workers does not violate anyone’s free-speech rights. Here’s why.

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