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In a widely watched Supreme Court case, MTD affiliate American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) on February 26, defended the rights of working people to collectively bargain

The case, Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, pitted Illinois child support specialist Mark Janus, an employee of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, against the union. Janus received pro bono services and other support from such well-known anti-worker groups as the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center.

According to Janus, paying for collective bargaining, even though he personally benefits from it, infringes on his First Amendment right of free speech. His legal team claims collective bargaining for wages and working conditions is a form of political speech because its purpose is to influence the public policy of elected officials.

A previous Supreme Court ruling rejected this line of reasoning in Abood v. the Detroit Board of Education in 1977. The Court ruled that fair use fees did not violate the constitutional rights of nonunion members, as long as these agency fees were limited to defraying expenses for bargaining and administering the contract and not for political activities. The Court specifically rejected the argument that collective bargaining was a form of political speech.

The Court in the Abood decision recognized the benefits of unions and the danger that they could be bankrupted if they were required to represent those who did not pay for their services – known as the free rider problem. If a freeloader can get a benefit without paying for it, members lose their incentive to keep paying for that same benefit.

The Supreme Court is not expected to reach a decision on this case until sometime in June, before the end of the session.