Nearly one in four workers belonged to a union in 2017 in New York State according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. It's by far the largest percentage of the workforce in the nation.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 on Wednesday to overturn a 41-year-old precedent which forced public employees to pay mandatory dues and fees to support their unions.
Anticipating what the Janus decision could mean for the almost 2 million government workers, the state legislature passed Part RRR as part of the Budget Bill back in March. The regulations are expected to help unions retain high memberships by allowing representatives to meet with new employees within 30 days of being hired.
"The employer has to let the union do that for a reasonable amount of time, which is not defined, and without charge to the employee's leave credits while the employee is on work time. So while the regulations don't explicitly state that the employee has to be paid to meet with the union, that is pretty much the implication we have there," said Theresa Rusnak, labor and employment attorney for Bond, Schoeneck & King.
Previously, employees who chose to opt out of a union were required to pay agency fees, also referred to as fair share fees, as the union would still represent them through collective bargaining agreements.
"We talk a lot these days about income inequality and pay equity, and when you look at unions, these are places where we're fighting for wage increases and affordable healthcare for working people every day. We also find structures where we have equality in wages between men and women," said Carrie Andrews, a regional representative for New York State United Teachers.
Now, employees will be able to opt out of all union fees. But according to Rusnak, the decision was based on first amendment rights.
"Actually the court discussed the free rider problem, in detail, in the Janus decision and said, 'well, free riders may or may not be a problem, we don't think they are but even so, it's not enough to violate someone's constitutional rights of freedom of speech and association,' and that is what they based the decision on," said Rusnak.
Union leaders say that this is a huge setback for the national labor movement, but that they expect New York to remain a union state.
"I think because of the success we've had as local unions doing that for a long time, the outreach we've done to members over the past years and what we've learned from what other states have gone through, we're going to be in a really good position moving forward," said Andrews.