President Trump celebrated the 5-4 decision in a tweet this morning, calling it a "big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!" — but by many measures, it's potential a loss for a wide swath of women from many backgrounds across the country.
The case centred on Mark Janus, an employee of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, who sued the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Janus argued that government employees who choose not to join unions should not be forced to pay "fair-share" or "agency" fees that support union contract negotiations — even if they benefit from it.
That commitment, he claimed, was a violation of workers' First Amendment rights, as it compelled public sector workers, "whose contract negotiations are with the government," to essentially fund "political advocacy" that may go against their own beliefs.
But as The New York Times notes, "unions say that reasoning is flawed. Nonmembers are already entitled to refunds of payments spent on political activities, like advertising to support a political candidate." Additionally, even if nonunion workers opt out, they'll still be able to collect on the benefits of public sector unions in their organisations — a practice called "free riding."
"Because unions must, by law, represent everyone equally, if there's no requirement to pay your fair share, then unions would end up providing costly representation to lots of people who decided not to pay for it," Vox explains. Basically, since employees can now choose not to pay for union services, but still get those services by law, public sector unions will inevitably hit a funding crisis.
The decision is set to impact women and workers of colour, as unions have traditionally helped disenfranchised groups fight for fair pay. "Unions play an essential role in boosting the quality of jobs around the country and the research shows that women and people of colour especially benefit from the collective bargaining power unions provide," said Heidi Hartmann, the president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) in a statement. "Labor unions have been at the forefront of the fight for fair pay and helped secure labor standards that are cornerstones of the American workplace, including the 40-hour work week, a national minimum wage, premium pay for overtime, health insurance, and family and medical leave."
Nearly half of union workers are public sector employees, and many of them are women. "Black women in particular could be hurt by Janus, as they are disproportionately represented in public sector jobs," says the Economic Policy Institute. "[They] have traditionally faced a double pay gap — a gender pay gap and a racial wage gap. However, unions help reduce these pay gaps. Working black women in unions are paid 94.9% of what their black male counterparts make, while nonunion black women are paid just 91% of their counterparts."
With wages remaining stagnant (even as the unemployment rate shrinks), gains like these can make a big difference in the stability of women's lives, long term.