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Despite legal threat, union is optimistic



A case being contemplated by the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn mandatory public sector union dues, but Oregon unions think the blow could be mostly temporary.

Oregon's public sector labor unions are bracing for an unfavorable ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on a case that could strike down mandatory public sector union dues that support collective bargaining here and in other states.

But if a similar court ruling in 2014 is any indication, any lost revenue from the change in interpretation of the law could be only temporary.

"There is no way this (ruling) will not impact us, but there is a lot of proof that shows workers will come together to have a voice to make their jobs betters and their communities better," said Melissa Unger, executive director of Service Employees International Union Local 503.

Justices are scheduled to rule by the end of June on the case of Mark Janus, an Illinois child support specialist, who claims that the mandatory fees violate his First Amendment right to free speech. (See Janus v. AFSCME Council 31.)

With the addition of conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court last year, a reversal of existing case law appears likely, according to legal experts.

A decision to strike down the law would reverse a nearly 40-year precedent that the court set in 1977 to permit mandatory fees and deal a blow to public sector unions' finances and political clout.

Twenty-two states, including Oregon and Illinois, allow the mandatory fees.

The other 28 states have so-called right-to-work laws, which make the dues voluntary, and have lower participation rates, according to research by a group of scientists who support labor unions and filed an amicus brief against another right-to-work court case in 2016.

But Oregon union leaders say they are optimistic that any negative impact will be only temporary. After decades of diminishing ranks, unions, especially in Oregon, are increasing membership.

The percentage of workers in Oregon who belonged to a union increased from 13.5 percent in 2016 to 14.9 percent in 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.



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