Unions dinged by court ruling, but buoyed by Democrats

By Mike Catalini

The Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey’s influential public unions got a boost this year when Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy took over state government from their perennial foe, Republican Chris Christie, but now they’re facing headwinds from Washington.

The Supreme Court this week ruled in a 5-4 decision to scrap a 41-year-old decision that allowed states to require public employees pay some fees to unions that represent them, even if the workers choose not to join.

In New Jersey, where an estimated three in five public workers are union members — nearly twice the national rate — there has been little evidence so far that the organizations’ political clout has fallen, though Republicans are hopeful.

A closer look at what the ruling means in New Jersey:

NO MORE ‘AGENCY FEES’

The ruling dealt a blow to labor, which collected the so-called agency fees from non-members to help finance operations. Conservatives argued the cash also went to fund political activities that primarily helped Democrats. That’s mostly the case in New Jersey, where labor and the Democrat-controlled state government are closely connected.

Before the court’s ruling, unions could charge up to 85 percent of the cost of membership through the fees.

Still, the state’s largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, seemed to brush off concern over the loss of such fees. Just 3,000 out of 200,000 total members fall into the category affected by the court’s ruling, according to spokesman Steven Baker. Other state unions, like the Communication Workers of America, have said they have similarly high percentages of membership.

The union contributes millions to Democrats through a political action committee most years, though last year the group was locked in a bitter fight in Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney, pouring cash into the coffers of his Republican rival.

“We are confident that we will remain able to do the representation and advocacy work that has long made NJEA a strong union,” he said.