Janus vs. AFSCME: Unions Lose Fair Share and Agency Fees

What must public employers do after Janus?

By Joshua Herman

email: joshua.herman@mhtlaw.com

Janus v. AFSCME, a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) issued June 27, 2018, reversed 40 years of law allowing governments and unions to withhold “fair share” deductions from non-union public employees without their consent to subsidize union activity – regardless of whether the employee agreed with the union, its positions, or the activity.

Following Janus, no public body or union can require or deduct an employee’s “fair share” without his free and voluntary consent.  “Fair share,” also referred to as “agency” or “shop” fees, are the costs and expenses unions claim non-union members owe for the benefit of the union’s services and representation.

Fair share deductions were previously lawful pursuant to the Supreme Court’s 1977 decision, Abood v. Detroit Bd. Of Ed. In Abood, fair share deductions (referred to then as “agency fees”) were allowed because they helped to obtain and maintain “labor peace” and avoided “free riders.”  However, Janus held that fair share unnecessarily infringes on First Amendment rights of non-union employees.

Contradicting the “free rider” argument, the plaintiff argued that he was not getting a free ride” on a bus headed somewhere he wanted to go; instead, he was being “shanghaied for an unwanted voyage.” Thus, even assuming the union secures non-union members valuable benefits, Janus opined that this is no different than other private speech that often benefits non-speakers; however, that benefit does not allow the government to require non-speakers pay for such speech.

The true benefits and costs from this decision will not be clear for years to come. As the majority stated “[i]t is hard to estimate how many billions of dollars have been taken from non-members and transferred to public sector unions in violation of the First Amendment.” However, such a “victory” comes at a cost because, as the Janus dissent notes, this decision “undoes bargains reached all over the country.” Twenty states have statutory schemes allowing or mandating fair share and it is a substantive portion of “thousands of current contracts covering millions of workers” requiring affected parties across the country to begin negotiating anew.

Next steps:  What must Public Employers do after Janus?

By its terms, the Court’s decision in Janus took effect immediately, requiring that parties should prepare for the fall out. After Janus, governments, school districts and other public bodies must take immediate action to comply with the new law and continue to meet their obligations under the existing labor law.

Stop Non-consensual Deductions. Public employers should immediately review all employees for whom they make deductions – whether for union dues or fair share – and immediately cease any such deduction that is not supported by the employee’s written consent to such deduction.

Union Dues from Union Employees. Most unions provide forms their members sign to consent to the deduction of union dues and fees. Employers should immediately notify the union of those union members who have not provided written consent and that, if unresolved, the employer may be unable to make any further deduction until a consent is provided.

Notice to Union. Public employers should immediately notify any applicable union that they intend to comply with the decision and, effective immediately, will no longer be deducting any fees from employees who have not provided a signed, written consent to such a deduction.

Duty to Bargain. Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, public employers must still comply with their duty to bargain. If unions reach out to a public employer, the employer should agree to meet and hear their concerns. However, public employers have no obligation to agree to any accommodations or provisions other than those required by law, and the Janus decision imposes no greater obligation.

Memorandum of Understanding. A public employer should not wait until it has a signed memorandum of understanding before proceeding as outlined above. However, offering to enter into such an agreement with the union can help labor relations. We have prepared a draft template that can be used for this purpose. Employers wishing to pursue this course of action should consult legal counsel.

Duty of Fair Representation / Bargaining with Individual Non-union Employees. The Janus decision does not change the union’s duty of fair representation to non-union members (although non-union members may have to begin paying for certain services such as representation in the disciplinary process), nor does it alter the status of the union as all employees’ exclusive bargaining representative. Therefore, public employers are still prohibited from bargaining with non-union employees who are covered under any applicable bargaining agreement.

FOIA following Janus. Some public sector unions have also taken steps to limit bargaining and labor information available to the public, reaching out to public bodies ahead of Janus to request that FOIA requests for information related to union membership, dues, and fair share fees be withheld on the basis that such information is private or personal. Such requests appear to exceed FOIA’s exceptions; consequently, public bodies should continue to exercise their own scrutiny and judgment in responding to FOIA requests that may relate to such information.

Consult counsel: Janus has created new issues in collective bargaining. For further guidance, public bodies should consult their attorney.  

(Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, Case No. 16-1466, decided June 27, 2018).