The State Worker

Trump administration: Union fees trample First Amendment

Public employee unions bargaining for better wages are effectively “lobbying” government officials and should be barred from passing their fees onto workers who disagree with the political stances that labor leaders advocate, the Trump administration argues in a new Supreme Court brief.

Trump’s solicitor general filed the brief last week in Janus vs. AFSCME, an Illinois case that could cost California public employee unions thousands of members and millions of dollars.

A decision against AFSCME would forbid public employee unions from collecting so-called “fair share” fees from workers who do not want to join labor groups but benefit from representation. California is one of 22 states that allow public employee unions to charge them.

Trump favors the arguments of Mark Janus, an Illinois state worker who does not want to pay the fees because he disagrees with his union’s political advocacy. Janus contends the fees violate his First Amendment rights to support causes of his choosing.

“Issues like tenure for state employees, merit pay, and the size of the state workforce are about more than money: they concern no less than the proper structure and operation of government,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote. “To compel a public employee to subsidize his union’s bargaining position on these questions is to force him to support private political and ideological viewpoints with which he may strongly disagree.”

The Obama administration took the opposite stance in a similar Supreme Court cast last year that involved the California Teachers Association. After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, the Supreme Court tied in the California case, allowing public sector unions to continue collecting mandatory fees from workers.

This year, public employee unions are pessimistic about their chances in the Janus case. Trump appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch to succeed Scalia, leading unions to believe the numbers on the court are not in their favor.

Trump’s brief offered some cold comfort to unions. It noted that the federal government does not allow fair share fees, and 27 percent of federal employees belong to labor groups.

That’s a steep drop for California’s public employee unions, which are able to charge some form of dues to all of the workers they represent.

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton. Sign up for state worker news alerts at