FILE - Mark Janus

Illinois state worker Mark Janus

Austin Berg | Content Exchange

Legal support continues to mount for an Illinois state worker whose lawsuit challenging forced union dues will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court early next year.

The Washington, D.C.,-based Center for Individual Rights on Wednesday filed an amicus brief in support of Mark Janus in his case against the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31. The brief was filed on behalf of seven California teachers who are challenging their state's forced-union dues law.

In addition to asking the Supreme Court to rule that forced-union dues laws are unconstitutional, CIR’s brief asks the court to end the burdensome opt-out requirements that many unions impose on non-members.

“For more than 40 years, public sector workers, including teachers, firefighters, and police officers, have been denied their First Amendment rights and been unjustly forced to fund political speech they disagree with,” CIR President Terry Pell said in a statement. “This issue has come up repeatedly in states across the country and will now be heard for the second time in as many years by the Court. It is not going away and we are hopeful that justice for workers will finally prevail.”

Janus says his First Amendment rights are being violated by being forced to pay dues to AFSCME in order to keep his job. 

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Janus vs. AFSCME in September. It follows a similar case out of California, Friedrichs vs. the California Teachers Association.

Rebecca Friedrichs, a school teacher, also was forced to pay dues to a union she didn't want to be a part of. She also filed suit arguing her First Amendment rights were being violated, and her case also made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. But conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died before the issue was resolved. After Scalia's death, the court deadlocked 4-4.

Since then, President Donald Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch, also a conservative, replaced Scalia on the bench.

If the Supreme Court rules in Janus' favor, an estimated 5.5 million government workers in 22 states without right-to-work laws, including Illinois, would be able to opt out of paying union fees.

Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME national, has called the lawsuit a political attack against union finances and collective bargaining. Pro-union groups say a favorable decision for Janus will make it difficult for unions to adequately bargain for workers.

In its brief, CIR pointed to another case, Yohn v. CTA, in arguing that the union supporters claims aren't true.

“During the Yohn proceedings, the unions provided absolutely no evidence that if forced union dues were ended, they would be unable to bargain for workers,” Pell said. “These cases – both Yohn and Janus – are not about eliminating collective bargaining mechanisms. In states that do not allow forced union dues, unions are still able to bargain effectively for workers and have continued do so for decades. We’re simply asking that the same freedom that half of the country already has be extended to all public sector workers.”

In a news release, CIR said its brief "also asks the Court to end the burdensome opt-out requirements that many unions impose on non-members. These requirements make union payments the default and place the burden on workers to affirmatively opt-out of union membership."

Over the past week, several other amicus briefs have been filed in support of Janus.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in Janus vs. AFSCME in late February and rule sometime in June.

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