The case was prompted by Illinois Department of Healthcare employee Mark Janus, who sued the union that represents him over the constitutionality of compulsory dues subtracted from his paycheck.
The court has a 5-4 conservative majority. Conservatives, including Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito, appeared ready to rule against the unions and maybe even overturn the court's 41-year-old precedent.
Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, the court's newest justice and the likely deciding vote, did not speak during the argument. A month after Antonin Scalia's sudden death in 2016, the court reviewed a similar complaint from a California public teacher and reached a 4-4 split decision and leaving the status quo.
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The case, Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, could turn the world of politics and unions upside down.
"When they're bargaining with government, it is an inherently political activity".
"How do negotiations over wages not affect the state budget?"
Frederick agreed that it would. "Isn't that the end of the case?"
U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
That perfectly reasonable argument has underpinned thousands of contracts and kept unions vital.
"Property and contract rights, the statutes of many states and the livelihoods of millions of individuals affected all at once", she said.
The court is revisiting a long-standing ruling that until now has stood as a compromise between union and nonunion workers at unionized workplaces. Because Illinois is not a right-to-work state, he was required to pay agency fees to the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.
Supreme Court hears arguments on so-called fair share fees paid by nonunion members for the second time in two years, NY labor unions are pre-emptively trying to stave off possible repercussions of the federal case.
"It's important for us union members to let the world know about the greedy politicians and businessmen who are trying to limit our power and voice and break down our communities by not allowing us to organize", Perry said.
"Probably their goal is to eventually get rid of the unions", Green told WFMZ. Illinois, like NY, allows unions to charge agency fees to employees who are covered by a union contract but are not members of the union. Janus believes anything unions do could be seen as political speech, and he doesn't think he should have to subsidize that speech.
Illinois Solicitor General David Franklin took an opposing view, arguing during his turn that government "has a much freer hand when it manages its personnel as an employer than when it regulates its citizens as a sovereign".
This is the second time this issue has been argued in two years.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has filed legal briefs and issued coalition letters against mandatory union dues as the case has worked its way to the highest court. With Pennsylvania not being a right to work state - meaning workers covered by a union can refuse to join while paying the fees - SEIU want to keep that status to promote a workforce that provides a sustainable living. For this reason, they are a thorn in the side of ideological conservatives, who blame them for big government.
He says he's not against unions, but should be given the choice to pay the fees. And the groups say workers have a constitutional right not to associate themselves with that speech. "Union security is the tradeoff for no strikes", Frederick said.
"Companies left to their own, they will take advantage of people", Kerr said.
Is union activity always political? Marisol Alcantara, the chairwoman of the Senate Labor Committee, and would create uniformed, statewide standards for public employees. "If you give more mileage expenses [to teachers], the amount of money that's going to be allocated to public education as opposed to public housing, welfare benefits, that's always a public policy issue".
Labor unions and their supporters have also argued that the state workers are being used in a corporate scheme to undermine worker rights. "And the fact is this court has never applied strict scrutiny to a condition of public employment that was backed by a bona fide interest that the state has as an employer".
"And make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters, they're coming after us".
The court's four liberals seemed to back the unions' position.