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Appeals court ruling clears path for U.S. Supreme Court to hear lawsuit to end mandatory union fees

An Illinois lawsuit challenging mandatory union fees paid by government workers could soon make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court as a result of an appellate court ruling issued this afternoon.

The plaintiffs in the case, Janus v. AFSCME, are two employees of Illinois government who are required to pay mandatory union fees to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 and Teamsters Local 916 as a condition of employment. They are represented by the Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court, which was the result the plaintiffs had sought from the appeals court. Now, this case can potentially proceed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“No one should be forced to pay money to a union as a condition of employment. We’re pleased with the court’s ruling today; it allows us to present this issue to the U.S. Supreme Court so that it can declare that public sector workers can’t be forced to give their money to a union just to keep their jobs,” said Jacob Huebert, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center.

Illinois law forces most employees of state government to pay money to a union as a condition of keeping their jobs. Even though state employees aren’t forced to be full-fledged union members, they are required to pay “fair share” fees to the union regardless of whether they want union representation. This lawsuit seeks to end that practice on the grounds that these fees violate the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights.

BACKGROUND: The current “fair share” rule is based on a 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which allows state and local governments to require their employees to pay fees to a union, even if the employees are not members. The 7th Circuit and the district court both followed this precedent.

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a similar case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which also challenged the constitutionality of mandatory union fees for public sector workers. The justices issued a split decision following the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Attorneys for the Illinois state workers now have 90 days to submit a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case.