Petitioner, a public employee of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, works as a child support specialist. The petitioner with 35,000 other employees, who are represented by the respondent American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees, Council 31 (Union), refused to join the Union because he opposed the Union’s public policies and also refused to pay fees.
Freedom of speech “includes both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking at all.” The right to eschew association for expressive purposes is also protected by the Constitution.
The Illinois Public Labor Relations Act provides that public employees do not need to join the union, but whether they join or not, they must subsidize a union by paying agency fee, and that union is considered to be their sole permitted representative. Such union is vested with broad authority and has the power to negotiate on not only pay, wages, hours, but policy matters. This results in the less power on employees, who may not be represented by any agent other than the designated union or negotiate directly with their employer. Essentially, protection of employees’ interests is solely placed in the hands of the union.
Does the Illinois law that forces public employees to subsidize a union, even though they do not actually join it or stand against the union’s positions with respect to collective bargaining, violate the First Amendment’s free speech rights?
Yes, compelling public employees to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern like collective bargaining and related activities is inconsistent with the First Amendment principle. Although this Court must defer to its precedents, the relevant case to the one at issue, Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Ed., was poorly reasoned and is inconsistent with other First Amendment cases. Developments since Abood was decided have shed new light on the issue of agency fees, and no reliance interests on the part of public-sector unions are sufficient to justify the free speech violations that Abood has supported for the past 41 years. Abood is overruled.
Abood, which maintained a stable balance between public employees’ First Amendment rights and government entities’ interests in running their workforces, should dictate the case here. While the government in Abood could require public employees to pay fees that a union incurs when negotiating on behalf of its wokers, none of that fees went to any of the union’s political or ideological activities. Therefore, it did and should survive the First Amendment scrutiny.
Compelling individuals to support for view that they find objectionable violates the Constitution. When the government prevents individuals from expressing their thoughts on important matters or forces them to advocate the views they oppose, it undermines the goals of the Constitution’s free speech rights principle. Compelling one to subsidize the speech of other private individuals impairs the First Amendment rights and thus cannot be allowed. In the present case, the respondent has failed to demonstrate that the law serves the State’s interest or that other less restrictive means could achieve the same result. The Illinois law forcing non-union members to either join the union or not pay fees and waive their First Amendment rights, is thus inconsistent with the free speech principle.