U.S. Supreme Court rules public sector workers can’t be compelled to pay union fees.

In a widely anticipated 5-4 decision in the so-called Janus case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that public sector workers cannot be required to pay union fees. The Associated Press reports,

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that government workers can’t be forced to contribute to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining, dealing a serious financial blow to organized labor.

The justices are scrapping a 41-year-old decision that had allowed states to require that public employees pay some fees to unions that represent them, even if the workers choose not to join…

The court ruled that the laws violate the First Amendment by compelling workers to support unions they may disagree with.

“States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees,” Justice Samuel Alito said in his majority opinion for the court’s five conservative justices.

The implications for public sector employees and unions in Washington state are significant and reactions came swiftly, as the Seattle Times reports.

Washington state’s labor organizations and Democratic elected officials Wednesday morning hammered the new U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared public-sector workers can’t be forced to pay union dues…

With more than 17 percent of its workers represented by private or public-sector labor organizations, Washington state has one of the highest union membership rates in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor  Statistics.

It remains unclear how much the ruling will impact Washington’s labor groups. A recent study by the nonprofit The Illinois Economic Policy Institute predicted public-employee unions in Washington could lose nearly 9 percent of their membership.

Political reaction divided predictably.

Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson described the decision as “a ruling designed to undermine public sector unions.”

…Washington state Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, … praised the decision.

The News Tribune points out that the decision apparently moots legislation recently passed in the Legislature.

In his written opinion, Justice Samuel Alito added to those regulations, saying fear of so-called “free riders” was not enough to compel workers who aren’t in the union to “subsidize” the cost of collective bargaining for an organization they disagree with.

The court also took the case one step farther, saying public-sector unions couldn’t automatically enroll employees and deduct dues without first having their consent. Washington state passed a law earlier this year over Republican objections to make membership “default,” as it was described by the sponsor of House Bill 2751, state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver.

Workers would have to opt out to leave the union under that law. Devereux said the bill was “nice and helpful,” but it now is illegal.

“By agreeing to pay, nonmembers are waiving their First Amendment rights, and such a waiver cannot be presumed,” Alito wrote.

The Wall Street Journal reports,

The impact of the ruling is likely to stretch far beyond the workplace, sapping resources from unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the National Education Association that have provided funds, resources and activists largely in support of Democratic candidates. In the 2016 election cycle, public-sector unions spent $64.6 million on political activities, and 90% of that went to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The largest spenders were the nation’s two biggest teachers’ unions and AFSCME.

…Some 20 states, principally in liberal-leaning regions such as the Northeast and the Pacific Coast, permit government agencies to reach union-security agreements with labor organizations, requiring employees within a bargaining unit either to join the union or pay it a fee for core services, such as negotiating and enforcing contracts.

As the WSJ points out, the decision does not affect private sector unions.

The theory behind Wednesday’s decision poses no immediate threat to union-security clauses in private-sector contracts. Unlike government agencies, private businesses generally aren’t required to respect free-speech rights and can establish various conditions of employment, including requiring fair-share fees, if permitted by state law.

As The News Tribune reports, the decision will likely prompt additional action in the 2019 Legislature.

The 2019 session, which begins in January, is likely to have more battles over union-related legislation.

Stonier, the Vancouver Democrat, said there are potential tweaks to her legislation that could make it legal, and that she is currently analyzing the Janus decision to see if there are other bills she could support that would bolster unions…

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, a Ritzville Republican, vowed instead to roll back labor influence in Washington state, saying public employees “lost ground this year to the unions.”

“This coming year we may see some legislative proposals to address those setbacks and protect public-sector union members in ways that their counterparts in the private sector already enjoy,” he said in a prepared statement.

Expect to hear more about this in the 2018 legislative campaigns.