On September 28, 2017, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the so-called “fair share” fees public employee unions collect from non-members. The justices agreed to hear a case brought by non-union government employees in Illinois that targets fees that their state and many others compel such workers to pay to unions in lieu of dues to fund collective bargaining and other organized labor activities.

The court will hear an appeal from Mark Janus, an Illinois government employee challenging a state law that allows agency fees. Union critics say the mandatory fees violate the Constitution’s First Amendment, forcing workers to support unions that do not share their priorities on matters of public importance. Union leaders say that collecting what they call “fair-share fees” ensures that workers can push for higher wages and better job conditions. If the fees were not mandatory, workers could become free riders, benefiting from union representation on issues such as pay negotiations without paying for it, according to a branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that represents Janus and other Illinois workers.

The court will consider overturning a 1977 ruling that lets public-sector unions in 22 states demand fees from workers who are not members. The five-member conservative majority appears poised to rule that workers opposed to union representation cannot be forced to pay for collective bargaining and other benefits. This issue deadlocked the Supreme Court in 2016, when Justice Scalia died leaving the group without a fifth vote, and the justices ended up with a 4-4 split. This time around the swing voter will be Justice Neil Gorsuch, who given his conservative track-record, likely will side with the court’s conservative wing.

The court will hear arguments early next year and rule by June 2018. The case is Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, 16-1466.