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(July 13, 2018) Ocean City government’s union leadership has no choice but to wait to see if the if the Supreme Court’s June 27 ruling against mandatory dues collection from non-union employees will have any local effect.

In the case just decided, Janus V. AFSCME, the court ruled 5-4 that requiring a non-union employee to pay dues to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees violated the employee’s First Amendment rights.

The right to free speech, the court decreed, supersedes the fairness issue of allowing a worker to benefit from the actions of a union he or she does not support.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for majority, noted that 28 states prohibit mandatory public sector union dues, or agency fees, which proves they are not critical to union operations or maintaining peace and harmony in the workplace.

Although Maryland does not restrict fee collections, Ryan Whittington, president the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4269, said his groups’ membership always has been voluntary.

“We have 100 percent participation of our members and always have,” he said. “We’ve never had just a service-paying member of the IAFF.”

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 10 President Joe Bushnell said all department personnel represented via collective bargaining also are paying union dues.

“We’ll have to see how people react to it,” he said of the new ruling. “They have a choice if they want to be members.”

Because the pay, privileges and benefits won through collective bargaining must apply to all workers in a specific classification, regardless of union membership, it is conceivable that an employee could opt out of his or her membership without suffering any penalty.

That consideration can put a union in a difficult situation by obligating it to argue, indirectly at least, on behalf of someone who opposes unionization.

That’s likely one of the reasons the argument over this conflict has been going on for more than 40 years.

The Janus decision reverses the Supreme Courts’ unanimous decision in 1977 (Abood v. Detroit Board of Education), which said requiring agency fees to support collective bargaining was constitutional.

In 2016, however, that decision was challenged by 10 public school teachers in California (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association). But shortly after the case was argued, Justice Antonin Scalia died, leaving the court without the tie-breaking vote necessary to settle a 4-4 split.

The majority opinion in the most recent case, however, argued that the societal landscape has changed since the late 1970s.

“Whatever may have been the case 41 years ago when Abood was decided, it is thus now undeniable that ‘labor peace’ can readily be achieved through less restrictive means than the assessment of agency fees,” the decision read.

Whittington, however, said the recent decision that theoretically weakens public sector unions has brought the firefighters unit closer together.

“Our members used this as an opportunity to reassert their commitment to the IAFF,” he said.

In the meantime, the national leadership of the FOP has followed the case closely, Bushnell said.

“The National Lodge sent information when the decision was made [advising us to] get ready and know you may lose some members,” he said.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the dissent, said the decision would result in numerous public sector collective bargaining agreements being re-negotiated.

“The court today wreaks havoc on entrenched legislative and contractual arrangements, which will render thousands of city, county and state contracts across the country illegitimate,” she wrote.

The Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank established in 1986 to focus on the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions, noted state and local government employees account for more than 86 percent of public sector union membership.

Prior to the Janus decision, the think tank also cautioned that stripping unions of their ability to collect fair share fees would hurt all state and local government workers by impeding their ability to organize and bargain collectively.

Whittington said the IAFF was created to promote good will and morale among the ranks.

“We typically deal with a lot of things that have to do with the health, safety and welfare of our membership,” he said.

Noting the Janus decision was based on a teachers’ union, Bushnell said police officers, regardless of union membership, still receive negotiated contract benefits.

This applies to command staff-level officers, who are not union members, as they were not covered by the referendum on police collective bargaining approved by resort voters in 2002.

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