Court deals big setback to labor unions

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that government workers can't be forced to contribute to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining, dealing a serious financial blow to Democratic-leaning organized labor.

The court's conservative majority, re-empowered by Justice Neil Gorsuch, scrapped a 41-year-old decision that had allowed states to require that public employees pay some fees to unions that represent them, even if the workers choose not to join.

The 5-4 decision not only will free non-union members in nearly two dozen states from any financial ties to unions, but also could encourage members to stop paying dues for services the court said Wednesday they can get for free.

Union leaders said in reaction to the ruling that they expect to suffer some loss of revenue and also predicted that the same anti-union forces that pushed to get rid of the so-called fair shares that non-members had to pay will try to persuade members to cut their ties.

"There are already plans," said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association. "They are going after our members."

But American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said unions would not be dissuaded: "Don't count us out."

The labor leaders spoke after the court ruled that the laws requiring fair share fees violate the First Amendment by compelling workers to support unions they may disagree with.

"States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees," Justice Samuel Alito said in his majority opinion in the latest case in which Gorsuch, an appointee of President Donald Trump, provided a key fifth vote for a conservative outcome.

Trump himself tweeted his approval of the decision while Alito still was reading a summary of it from the bench.

"Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!" Trump said in the tweet.

In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote of the big impact of the decision. "There is no sugarcoating today's opinion. The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this Nation's law - and its economic life - for over 40 years. As a result, it prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance. And it does so by weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy."

The court's three other liberal justices joined the dissent.

In one sense, Wednesday's result was no surprise and merely delayed by the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. The court split 4-4, after Scalia's death, when it considered the same issue in 2016.

When Trump was elected, opponents of the fees hurried a case back to the court. And fearing what would happen, unions strongly opposed Gorsuch's nomination to the high court.

The unions say the outcome could affect more than 5 million government workers in about two dozen states and the District of Columbia.

The case decided Wednesday involved Illinois state government worker Mark Janus, who argued that everything unions do, including bargaining with the state, is political and employees should not be forced to pay for it.

The unions argued that so-called fair share fees pay for collective bargaining and other work the union does on behalf of all employees, not just its members. More than half the states already have right-to-work laws banning mandatory fees, but most members of public-employee unions are concentrated in states that don't, including California, New York and Illinois.

A recent study by Frank Manzo of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and Robert Bruno of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign estimated that public-sector unions could lose more than 700,000 members over time as a result of the ruling and that unions also could suffer a loss of political influence that could depress wages as well.

Alito acknowledged that unions could "experience unpleasant transition costs in the short term." But he said labor's problems pale in comparison to "the considerable windfall that unions have received...for the past 41 years."

Billions of dollars have been taken from workers who were not union members in that time, he said.

"Those unconstitutional exactions cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely," Alito wrote.

Kagan, reading a summary of her dissent in the courtroom, said unions only could collect money for the costs of negotiating terms of employment. "But no part of those fees could go to any of the union's political or ideological activities," she said.

The court's majority said public-sector unions aren't entitled to any money from employees without their consent.


Justices give Florida narrow win in water fight with Georgia

By Jessica Gresko and Gary Fineout
Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida's governor is cheering and his Georgia counterpart is digging in for a fight after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Florida to press its case in a decades-long battle between the two states over a river that serves them both.

The justices' 5-4 ruling Wednesday concerns a dispute over Georgia's use of water from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers that serve booming metro Atlanta, Georgia's powerful agricultural industry and Florida's oyster fisheries beyond the river's mouth.

The court said a special master appointed to hear the lawsuit should reconsider Florida's argument that limiting how much water Georgia uses would provide more water downstream to the Apalachicola River that flows into Apalachicola Bay and the nearby Gulf of Mexico.

Florida officials celebrated the decision even though it means that the expensive battle, which has cost the state's taxpayers $57 million in the last four years, will continue forward.

"Today's ruling is a huge win for the entire state of Florida," said Gov. Rick Scott, who pushed to have the state sue Georgia directly. "After decades of failed negotiations, we took our historic action to protect families all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. I am glad that the court ruled in Florida's favor today and we look forward to further securing a healthy Apalachicola Bay while protecting the thousands of jobs that depend on this natural resource. The best interest of these families will always come first."

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, however, said he "remained confident" in his state's legal position.

"Georgia remains committed to the conservation efforts that make us amicable stewards of our water resources," said Deal, adding that both he and Attorney General Chris Carr "remain committed to making every effort to defend Georgia's water resources for our current and future citizens. We look forward to obtaining a positive ruling on the merits in this case."

The states' battle over water use dates back to 1990, and includes drawn-out negotiations and several lawsuits. Alabama, which has the Chattahoochee on its eastern border, is not part of the current lawsuit that was first filed nearly five years ago.

The special master the court appointed to hear the lawsuit had recommended that the court side with Georgia and reject Florida's call for limiting water consumption from the Flint river. But five of the justices did not agree with his decision.

"Five of us believe that the special master, as Florida said, did apply too strict a standard and that under a proper standard, Florida did adequately show that relief may be possible," Justice Stephen Breyer said in announcing the opinion. "We hold that the master should go on to make further factual findings in the case, such as whether Georgia is, in fact, using too much Flint River water, and if so, whether Florida could benefit significantly from a cap on Georgia's use of that water."

Breyer was joined in his opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor

In announcing the decision Wednesday, on the last day of the Supreme Court's term before summer recess, Breyer said that if the public wishes to "learn something of the beauty and emotional appeal of this southeastern river basin," he could recommend songs: Alan Jackson's song "Chattahoochee" or Bing Crosby and Bob Hope performing "Apalachicola, Fla." But he said if "you wish to learn about water rights" and "equitable apportionment of river water among states" he'd recommend reading the opinions in the case.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who grew up in Georgia, wrote that he would have sided with Georgia

"In the final analysis, Florida has not shown that it will appreciably benefit from a cap on Georgia's water use," Thomas wrote in a dissent for himself and Justices Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch.

Though the decision in the case was 5-4, the justices did not split along ideological lines, with two conservative justices joining three liberal justices in the majority and Kagan, a liberal, joining three conservatives in dissent.


Associated Press writer Ben Nadler contributed to this story from Atlanta


Court declines to hear case about Wynn dealer tips

LAS VEGAS (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to settle whether the Wynn Las Vegas can require dealers to share tips with supervisors.

The court on Monday denied a petition by the Wynn Las Vegas to overturn a lower court's ruling that the casino-resort must end the tip-splitting practice.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports Wynn Resorts is the only Las Vegas gaming operator requiring dealers to share 15 percent of tips with their pit boss.

The court's denial sends the case back to a state judge who will hear both sides.

Wynn spokesman Michael Weaver says the company will "vigorously defend" its position and expects a favorable ruling.

Dealer union representative Kanie Kastroll says the high court's denial is a milestone for the dealers.

Dealers could recover lost compensation from May 2011 and onward if they prevail.


Wyoming boundary case turned down

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a dispute over the Wind River Reservation's boundaries in Wyoming.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports that the decision Monday upholds a ruling last year by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that the city of Riverton was not on the reservation.

The dispute centers on whether a 1905 agreement between the tribes and federal government to allow sale of reservation land to non-Indians actually changed the reservation boundaries.

The state of Wyoming was among those who argued that argued Riverton was off the reservation.

Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Roy Brown said in a statement that the tribe is disappointed in the decision but would not give up its fight to protect its land and sovereignty.

Published: Thu, Jun 28, 2018