Heads Up – Supreme Court Lands Knockout Punch on Public Sector Unions… And Perhaps Beyond

June 27, 2018


This morning the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case that will have devastating effects on America’s public sector labor unions and will no doubt affect the operation and strategy of unions in the private sector as well.


In the long-awaited Janus v AFSCME case, the court ruled that employees in public sector bargaining units, e.g., city, state, county, and federal unions, can no longer be forced to pay any money to their union. No dues, no agency to use, no service fees, no money. Given the fact that the lifeblood of organized labor in the United States has evolved to members in these political entities, districts, and subdivisions, this will prove to be the most devastating event in the history of the labor movement. Assuming that most Americans, always looking for something for nothing, will no longer be financially supporting unions, the financial effect will be catastrophic. Under the law, unions are still required to represent the employees who are members of the bargaining unit even though they are not “members of the union.” This decision will, no doubt, result in massive reductions of staff at the union level and poorer representation than the already abysmal standard.


This decision affects the private sector unions as well.


Since most unions that represent public employees also represent private employees, loss of revenue has already impacted their ability to staff, service, and organize traditional employers. The unions that will be devastated by this are, e.g., AFSCME, SEIU, NEA, AFT, NAGE, various nurses unions, and many others to a lesser degree. These unions have already felt the financial impact of the majority of states (28 at present) becoming “Right to Work.”


This decision could well be the penultimate “shot” delivered to organized labor. Their decision is simple…


Dive in the bunker, shrink their expenses, and essentially surrender; or they can suck it up, change their tired old paradigms, find a way to portray an image of value to prospective members, do a better job of representing them, and get in the weeds and find new members. If they don’t choose the latter, we could be watching the demise of an institution that has been around the last two centuries.


The ultimate shot, of course, would be the repeal of the National Labor Relations Act and the various state and federal labor laws.


My guess is they do a little of both…shrink their top-heavy bureaucracies reflecting the economic realities that they will be dealing with and be devising new and aggressive strategies to gain more members in the private sector.


Best regards,


William R. Adams, Ph.D.

President & CEO

Adams, Nash, Haskell & Sheridan