Monday, July 2, 2018

Janus v. AFSCME: Potential impact

IASB notified school districts last week via a guidance document about potential implementation issues involving the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Mark Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, et al. (Janus). The ruling held that public sector agency fee arrangements, also known as "fair share fees," are unconstitutional because they violate the First Amendment free speech rights of nonconsenting public-sector employees by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.

Implementation issues aside, the Janus ruling may have wide-ranging implications for public school districts in states (including Illinois) that permit unions to automatically deduct what’s known as an “agency fee” from employees’ paychecks if they choose not to join the local labor union. It is imperative that local school districts contact their legal counsel and develop a plan with advice from the board attorney as they go forward.

Here are some ways in which it has been suggested that school districts could be impacted:

  • Union power could wane. This could result in fewer teachers joining local educational association bargaining units. Some observers say the Janus case is not exclusively a labor issue or a free-speech issue — it’s also a big part of the overall battle between the unions and union opponents like the Illinois Policy Institute (Institute) and the National Right To Work Committee (Committee). Plaintiff Mark Janus was represented by groups tied to both the Institute and the Committee. With less money to fund activities such as lobbying, recruitment, and negotiations, experts said some unions could experience a decline in political clout and even find that some school districts feel less pressure to meet their demands. 
  • Teachers might pay more in dues. Because fair share fees helped defray a portion of union costs, teacher unions may feel the need to recover the amount those fee payers had contributed to their coffers. That could potentially mean asking all members to pay higher dues.
  • Unions could step up recruitment and other activities. Some observers have speculated that teacher unions may need to step up their activities to remain relevant to teachers and prevent any major drop in membership totals, such as providing increased bargaining representation and other benefits. What is more, because unions get much of their clout from potential strikes, districts might eventually face greater militancy from unions, with threats of strikes becoming more common.

In other words, regardless of how unions have behaved in the recent past, experts say the Janus decision could cause a change in the relationship between some school districts and their local unions.