Today, the US Supreme Court issued its worst decision on labor rights in decades in Janus v. AFSCME. The 5-4 decision uses a narrow conception of individual rights to declare that workers are free to opt out of paying for the cost of negotiating and enforcing union contracts from which they benefit. It does so by stating that requiring workers to contribute to these costs violates their first amendment free speech rights, by compelling them to support speech with which they disagree.
The decision, like much of US labor law jurisprudence, ignores the structural inequality that exists between workers and their employers, which makes it such that workers can only meaningfully exercise freedom of speech at work if they are able to do so collectively. By undermining workers’ ability to engage in collective action by eroding their organizational resources, the Supreme Court’s decision ends up undermining worker freedom, the very thing it claims to uphold.
Charles Smith from the University of Saskatchewan and I published a piece in the Washington Post today where we discuss the errors of the Supreme Court’s decision, and compare it with how the Canadian Supreme Court has handled workers’ rights. You can read it here.