WASHINGTON: The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that government workers can’t be forced to contribute to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining, dealing a serious financial blow to Democratic-leaning organized labor.

The court’s conservative majority scrapped a 41-year-old decision that had allowed states to require that public employees pay some fees to unions that represent them, even if the workers choose not to join.

Stevan Pickard, Akron region director for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Ohio Council 8 AFL-CIO, said he and others in the union expected the 5-4 decision.

The district has about 5,000 union members in a multi-county area and all but 800 or so work in the public sector, Pickard said. The public sector union members predominantly work in blue collar and clerical jobs at such places as water plants and for sewer, sanitation and other departments, he said.

“Of course we’re disappointed,” Pickard said. “But we knew it was going to happen.”

That’s because President Donald Trump last year appointed Neil Gorsuch to the court, making for a conservative majority, he said.

Unions will have to make their case to people reluctant to join, he said. He called it “Talk to People 101” — showing people the benefits of union membership.

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan issued a statement, saying unions give a robust, united voice on compensation, safety, healthcare and in other areas, while acting as an important check on the powers of employers’ self interests.

“We stand today with union membership across this nation to express our disappointment and opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus,” Horrigan said. “I will continue to bargain directly with our union leadership regarding the conditions of employment for city workers, and I am confident that this decision will not weaken the resolve of our public sector unions to stand up for the rights of their members and the working class.”

Columbus-based Ohio Association of Public School Employees/AFSCME Local 4 also issued a statement:

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 is unfortunate, but it doesn’t change the mission of OAPSE: to work for justice and dignity for all workers in our public schools, libraries and other public institutions and to fight for our members, who provide critical services for families, children and the disabled,” the local said.

U.S. Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, D-Warrensville Heights, said in a news release that she is “deeply disappointed” in the finding that public sector unions cannot collect “fair share fees” for the services they are required to provide to all workers.

The decision not only will free non-union members in nearly two dozen states from any financial ties to unions, but also could encourage members to stop paying dues for services the court said Wednesday they can get for free.

Pressure on unions

Union leaders said in reaction to the ruling that they expect to suffer some loss of revenue and also predicted that the same anti-union forces that pushed to get rid of the so-called fair shares that nonmembers had to pay will try to persuade members to cut their ties.

“There are already plans,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association. “They are going after our members.”

But American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said unions would not be dissuaded: “Don’t count us out.”

The labor leaders spoke after the court ruled that the laws requiring fair share fees violate the First Amendment by compelling workers to support unions they may disagree with.

“States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees,” Justice Samuel Alito said in his majority opinion in the latest case in which Gorsuch, an appointee of President Donald Trump, provided a key fifth vote for a conservative outcome.

Trump approves

Trump himself tweeted his approval of the decision while Alito still was reading a summary of it from the bench.

“Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!” Trump said in the tweet.

In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote of the big impact of the decision. “There is no sugarcoating today’s opinion. The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this Nation’s law — and its economic life — for over 40 years. As a result, it prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance. And it does so by weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.”

The court’s three other liberal justices joined the dissent.

In one sense, Wednesday’s result was merely delayed by the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. The court split 4-4, after Scalia’s death, when it considered the same issue in 2016.

When Trump was elected, opponents of the fees hurried a case back to the court. And fearing what would happen, unions strongly opposed Gorsuch’s nomination to the high court.

The unions say the outcome could affect more than 5 million government workers in about two dozen states and the District of Columbia.

The case decided Wednesday involved Illinois state government worker Mark Janus, who argued that everything unions do, including bargaining with the state, is political and employees should not be forced to pay for it.

The unions argued that fair share fees pay for collective bargaining and other work the union does on behalf of all employees, not just its members. More than half the states already have right-to-work laws banning mandatory fees, but most members of public-employee unions are concentrated in states that don’t, including California, New York and Illinois.

Beacon Journal business writer Jim Mackinnon and the Associated Press contributed to this report.