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Wash. Unions Optimistic Despite SCOTUS Decision on Fees

Labor laws in 22 states, including Washington, are affected by Wednesday's Supreme Court decision on public-sector union fees. (Matt Wade/Flickr)
Labor laws in 22 states, including Washington, are affected by Wednesday's Supreme Court decision on public-sector union fees. (Matt Wade/Flickr)
June 28, 2018

SEATTLE — A decision handed down Wednesday by the U.S. Supreme Court will likely deliver a financial blow to public unions - but labor groups remain optimistic about their future. In a 5-4 vote, the Court sided with Illinois public union employee Mark Janus, saying he doesn't have to pay so-called "fair-share" fees for representation in collective bargaining.

The reaction from labor? They're disappointed but not shaken. Greg Devereux, head of the Washington Federation of State Employees, said despite this latest attack, interest in unions is growing.

"I don't think it's really going to change the tone of labor relations tremendously,” Devereaux said. “In an uncertain world, workers are looking for the protections of a union."

The ruling reverses a 40-year-old Supreme Court decision and upends laws in 22 states, including Washington. With it, people who are covered under public-employee contracts don't have to pay for representation in collective-bargaining negotiations.

Devereux noted the decision wasn't unexpected and said his federation has been reaching out to members on the value and relevance of unions.

Conservative justices argued that requiring employees to pay union fees forced those workers to finance union activity they might disagree with, violating their First Amendment rights. However, Devereux said this decision simply tips the political scales toward employers.

"Some folks argue we shouldn't be involved in politics,” he said. “We have to be involved in politics. The employer decides everything about our workers' lives - work lives. And so we have to be involved in that process."

In a similar 2016 case, the court ended in a 4-4 deadlock after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA