On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument relating to an important case that could determine whether public sector unions can collect involuntary fees from nonmembers. Based on the questions the justices asked, experts believe that the outcome of the case could be determined by the newest member of the court, Neil Gorsuch, who did not ask any questions during the proceedings.
Arguments lasted about an hour, and the questions that came from the court’s conservative wing seem to suggest that they were sympathetic with the arguments made by anti-union groups. They argued that forcing nonmembers to pay fees to the unions — to cover costs related to negotiating collective bargaining agreements with local and state governments — was tantamount to restricting the freedom of speech of those nonmembers. Conversely, justices who represent the liberal wing of the court asked questions that suggest that they were supportive of continuing the fees.
At issue was whether negotiating collective bargaining agreements was a political activity. The conservative justices seem to think that it is, while the unions and their liberal supporters on the court insist that negotiating the contracts is separate from their political activities.
Outside the court, protesters on both side of the issued attempted to get their voice heard on the issue. Those supporting union rights held signs that insisted that the country needed good union jobs, while their counterparts held signs that stated that they were standing with Mark. The latter refers to Mark Janus, who is a an Illinois state worker and the plaintiff in the case.
Currently, more than 20 states require around 5,000,000 workers to pay these fees, which are called “agency fees.” If these fees were disallowed, it would be a major setback to unions, and could affect what can spend in political races. Commonly, unions support Democratic candidates over Republicans.