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Indiana Presents Cautionary Tale in Wake of Janus Decision


Thursday, June 28, 2018   

INDIANAPOLIS — On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that non-union workers can't be forced to pay so-called fair share fees to help cover the costs of collective bargaining and other work carried out by public-sector unions.

The decision is widely viewed as a potentially crippling blow to unions representing government workers nationwide. Andrew Bradley, senior policy analyst with the Indiana Institute for Working Families, said the Hoosier state presents a cautionary tale for what can happen when unions lose their bargaining power.

"In 2005, when Indiana got rid of public-sector collective bargaining, we had the 24th highest hourly wages in the nation,” Bradley said. “But as of 2017, we're down to 39th."

Bradley noted that women and people of color could be disproportionately affected by the Janus case, as these populations tend to make up a majority of public-sector workers. He added that Indiana now boasts the sixth-highest gender wage gap in the nation.

The court's decision overturned a 1977 ruling that found unions can collect fees for non-political work that benefits all workers. Opponents of fair-share laws called the decision a win for workers who don't want to be forced to pay for political speech they disagree with, and claim the move will create more choice in the workplace.

Heidi Shierholz is a former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor. She said it's already illegal for fair-share fees to be used for political activities. She said giving workers a choice about paying their share of costs associated with negotiating higher wages and benefits and filing workplace grievances is likely to produce what she calls a "free ride" effect.

"Even if they value it highly, they may be unwilling to pay the dues, and that will starve the union of resources and will hurt the ability of the union to provide crucial services,” Shierholz said. “The real goal is to actually starve the unions to reduce their effectiveness."

Shierholz said she believes Wednesday's decision is the result of a 40-year effort to weaken public-sector unions through the courts. In February, a report by the Economic Policy Institute identified a core group of wealthy foundations with ties to powerful corporate lobbies that bankrolled a long line of fair-share fee cases, including Janus.

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