Wisconsin Public Safety Unions Face Changes

It will be interesting to see if public safety unions will see the same erosion of dues paying members as other public unions did.

Public-safety worker unions in Wisconsin cannot require that fees be paid by non-union members under a pivotal ruling issued Wednesday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gov. Scott Walker touted the national ruling as a sign Wisconsin was ahead of the curve seven years ago when it passed a landmark law curtailing the power of public unions.

Most public unions in Wisconsin were barred from collecting so-called “fair-share” fees by Act 10, the 2011 state law that broadly curtailed their power. But that law exempted public-safety unions such as police, firefighters and the State Patrol.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling applies the ban on requiring payment of fair-share fees by non-union members to all public unions nationwide. It overturns a 41-year-old decision that had allowed states to require that public employees pay such fees to unions that represent them in collective bargaining even if the workers choose not to join — so long as the fees cover only the unions’ costs to bargain and their administration, not their political or advocacy work.

As was the case in Wisconsin after Act 10, the national Supreme Court ruling is likely to cause public union membership elsewhere to decrease and their political clout to wane, one expert said.