Senate President Steve Sweeney is in rare agreement with a group that spent millions trying to oust him from the legislature last year.
Sweeney and the New Jersey Education Association both lamented a U.S. Supreme Court decision issued on Wednesday that forbids public-sector unions from collecting fees from non-union employees for collective bargaining those non-members benefit from.
“I’m very disappointed, wasn’t surprised,” Sweeney said. “Listen, I’m a labor guy, regardless of what you think. I’ve earned my living, my father earned his living – I’ve been a union person through and through. I’m offended by it because it’s a blatant attempt to destroy unions that protect workers. This country was its greatest when unions were at the height of their strength in the ’40’s.”
Mark Janus, a government worker from Illinois, asked the court to overrule a 40-year-old decision that found public sector unions could require non-members that benefitted from collective bargaining to pay so-called fair share fees, sometimes called agency fees, because there was no guarantee that the money gathered from those fees was not being used for political advocacy.
By a margin of 5 to 4, the court ruled in favor of the complainant in Janus v. AFSCME, dealing a huge blow to unions. The court decided that the union could not require so-called agency fees from non-members because there was no guarantee the groups would not use that money to engage in political advocacy.
The court said the matter could infringe on employees’ first amendment right to free speech.
Now, public sector unions will need non-members to opt in to paying the fees.
“This morning’s blatantly anti-worker, anti-middle class ruling by the Supreme Court demonstrates what unions have always known: we must always fight for the rights of working people in America and never take any of those rights for granted,” NJEA President Marie Blistan said in a statement.
But, not everyone decried the decision.
Some Republican lawmakers hailed the decision as a rightly-deserved blow to unions they say play too big a role in New Jersey politics and are too costly for employees.
“This decision restores free speech and freedom of association to every public school teacher and government worker across New Jersey,” Assemblywoman Amy Handlin said in a statement. “For far too long, unions have propped themselves up with money skimmed out of paychecks despite the workers’ objections.”
Others celebrated the decision on ideological grounds.
Erica Jedynak, New Jersey state director of Americans for Prosperity, lauded the decision as one that would force unions to be more accountable to their members. They would have to work for their members’ support instead of receiving dues automatically.
“We’ve long supported the principle that people shouldn’t have to fund political speech they don’t agree with,” Jedynak said.
Jedynak said that the decision is “a game changer for New Jersey” and that her group will partner with the My Pay, My Say Project to educate New Jersey union members on their right to not pay union dues or fees.