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U.S. Supreme Court building. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that public-sector unions can’t force nonmembers to pay fees to cover collective bargaining costs is expected to undermine union power. Public unions, which represent workers such as police officers, teachers and firefighters, rely on these fees as a big source of revenue.

The court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, issued on the last day of the term, overturned precedent set in 1977 that said unions could collect fees from nonmembers for the purpose of collective bargaining. The court said these fees violate First Amendment speech rights—that even collective bargaining, essentially, is a political act.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 10.7 percent of U.S. workers were union members in 2017, down from 20.1 percent in 1983. Nearly a third of U.S. government employees are members of a public-sector union.

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