In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public-sector workers who opt out of union membership are no longer obligated to pay for collective bargaining. In Janus v. AFSCME, the Court struck down an Illinois law that originally required non-member workers to “pay their proportionate share of the costs of the collective bargaining process, contract administration and pursuing matters affecting wages, hours and other conditions of employment.” 22 other states have similar laws.
Plaintiff Mark Janus, a child-support specialist for the state of Illinois, challenged the law that required him, as a non-member government worker, to pay partial dues to the union for negotiation and other costs. Janus argued that paying into the union violated his free speech, contending that he “oppose[d] many of [the union’s] positions, including those taken in collective bargaining.” The Court found the non-member payment obligation at odds with the First Amendment because it could force government workers to endorse political speech that conflicts with their own.
This same issue was taken to the Supreme Court in 1977, where the Court previously found a distinction between a non-member’s partial payment to cover collective bargaining and a full union member’s payment that could include political activity or lobbying.  The majority’s recent ruling in Janus, however, concluded that union negotiations are “inherently political” and that non-members cannot be obligated to pay for political speech and activity to which they oppose.
Janus paves the way for public workers to avoid paying union membership while still reaping the benefits, now shouldered by the remaining dues-paying members. Public-sector unions everywhere stand to lose “tens of millions of dollars and see their effectiveness diminished.” Notably, the decision should not impact private-sector unions, as the First Amendment only restricts government action, not private conduct.