This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a 5-4 decision that public sector union employees can choose not to pay union dues or fees, a move that could damage unions’ finances and limit their political clout.
In Pennsylvania, and nationally, teachers’ unions could bear the brunt of the court’s ruling.
There are 142,374 active members of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. That number balloons to 180,371 when counting retirees, substitutes, and other smaller categories of members.
Those numbers make PSEA one of the Commonwealth’s largest union bulwarks. Its active members represent roughly one-fifth of the state’s estimated 665,000 union workers, both public and private sector.
PSEA represents 6,380 more employees who have opted out of full union membership and instead pay a lower “fair share” fee. The Supreme Court decision disallows those fees, meaning that public sector employees can now decide to pay nothing to the union that represents them.
The American Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, has 25,642 active members and 1,948 employees paying a “fair share” amount.
For further reaction to the decision, click here.
Conservative groups cheered the decision as a triumph for free speech.
Lead plaintiff Mark Janus, who works for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, argued that public employees shouldn’t have to contribute to unions that lobby for politicians or policies that they oppose.
“I’m thrilled that the Supreme Court has restored not only my First Amendment rights, but the rights of millions of other government workers across the country,” said Janus, in a statement. “So many of us have been forced to pay for political speech and policy positions with which we disagree, just so we can keep our jobs.”