Supreme Court divided in pivotal challenge to union fees

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court appeared divided along ideological lines on Monday in a high-stakes case that could deprive unions representing police, firefighters and certain other public employees of a key source of funds -- millions of dollars in fees they can collect annually from non-members.

During about an hour of arguments, conservative justices appeared sympathetic to the challenge brought by anti-union groups arguing that the fees that workers who are not members of public-sector unions must pay to help cover the costs of collective bargaining with state and local governments violate workers' free speech rights.

The 25 highest-paying jobs you can get without a Bachelor's degree:

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The 25 highest-paying jobs you can get without a bachelor's degree
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The 25 highest-paying jobs you can get without a bachelor's degree

#25: Aerospace engineering and operations technicians

They operate and maintain equipment used in developing, testing, and producing new aircraft and spacecraft.

Median annual wage (2016): $68,020

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 3,200

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#24: Magnetic-resonance-imaging technologists

They monitor patient safety and comfort and view images of areas being scanned to ensure quality of pictures.

Median annual wage (2016): $68,420

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 9,800

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#23: Gaming managers

They plan, direct, or coordinate gaming operations in a casino.

Median annual wage (2016): $69,180

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 800

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#22: Diagnostic medical sonographers

They use special imaging equipment that directs sound waves into a patient's body to assess and diagnose various medical conditions.

Median annual wage (2016): $69,650

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 27,500

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#21: Ship engineers

They supervise and coordinate activities of crew engaged in operating and maintaining engines, boilers, deck machinery, and electrical, sanitary, and refrigeration equipment aboard ship.

Median annual wage (2016): $70,570

Education required: Postsecondary nondegree award

Projected job openings (through 2024): 3,500

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#20: Postmasters and mail superintendents

They plan, direct, or coordinate operational, administrative, management, and supportive services of a US post office, or coordinate activities of workers engaged in postal and related work in an assigned post office.

Median annual wage (2016): $71,670

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 3,800

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: Moderate-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#19: Transportation inspectors

They inspect equipment or goods in connection with the safe transport of cargo or people.

Median annual wage (2016): $72,220

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 7,100

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Moderate-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#18: Captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels

They command or supervise operations of ships and water vessels, such as tugboats and ferryboats. 

Median annual wage (2016): $72,680

Education required: Postsecondary nondegree award (Required to hold license issued by US Coast Guard.)

Projected job openings (through 2024): 17,200

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#17: Dental hygienists

They clean teeth, examine patients for oral diseases like gingivitis, and provide other preventative dental care.

Median annual wage (2016): $72,910

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 70,300

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#16: First-line supervisors of non-retail sales workers

They directly supervise and coordinate activities of sales workers other than retail sales workers.

Median annual wage (2016): $73,150

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 69,900

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#15: Funeral-service managers

They plan, direct, or coordinate the services or resources of funeral homes.

Median annual wage (2016): $73,830

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 7,400

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Shutterstock

#14: Nuclear medicine technologists

They use a scanner to create images of various areas of a patient's body. They prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients undergoing the scans.

Median annual wage (2016): $74,350

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 4,200

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#13: First-line supervisors of fire fighting and prevention workers

They directly supervise and coordinate activities of workers engaged in fire fighting and fire prevention and control.

Median annual wage (2016): $74,540

Education required: Postsecondary nondegree award

Projected job openings (through 2024): 33,400

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: Moderate-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#12: Power-plant operators

They control, operate, or maintain machinery to generate electric power. Includes auxiliary equipment operators.

Median annual wage (2016): $74,690

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 14,100

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Long-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#11: Powerhouse, substation, and relay electrical and electronics repairers

They inspect, test, repair, or maintain electrical equipment in generating stations, substations, and in-service relays.

Median annual wage (2016): $75,670

Education required: Postsecondary nondegree award

Projected job openings (through 2024): 3,900

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Long-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#10: Commercial pilots

They pilot and navigate the flight of fixed-wing aircraft on nonscheduled air-carrier routes or helicopters. Requires commercial-pilot certificate.

Median annual wage (2016): $77,200

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 15,100

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Moderate-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#9: Detectives and criminal investigators

They conduct investigations related to suspected violations of federal, state, or local laws to prevent or solve crimes.

Median annual wage (2016): $78,120

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 28,300

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: Moderate-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#8: Elevator installers and repairers

They assemble, install, repair, or maintain electric or hydraulic freight or passenger elevators, escalators, or dumbwaiters.

Median annual wage (2016): $78,890

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 5,900

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Apprenticeship

Photo credit: Getty

#7: Nuclear technicians

They assist physicists, engineers, and other professionals in nuclear research and nuclear production.

Median annual wage (2016): $79,140

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 2,800

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Moderate-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#6: Radiation therapists

They check equipment, observe patients' reactions to treatment, and document sessions.

Median annual wage (2016): $80,160

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 6,200

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#5: Power distributors and dispatcher

They coordinate, regulate, or distribute electricity or steam.

Median annual wage (2016): $81,900

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 3,900

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Long-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#4: First-line supervisors of police and detectives

They directly supervise and coordinate activities of members of a police force.

Median annual wage (2016): $84,840

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 43,000

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: Moderate-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#3: Transportation, storage, and distribution managers

They coordinate transportation, storage, or distribution activities in accordance with organizational policies and applicable government laws or regulations.

Median annual wage (2016): $89,190

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 27,100

Work experience: Five years or more

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#2: Nuclear-power-reactor operators

They operate or control nuclear reactors, move control rods, start and stop equipment, monitor and adjust controls, record data in logs, and implement emergency procedures when needed.

Median annual wage (2016): $91,170

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 2,600

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Long-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#1: Air-traffic controllers

They monitor and direct the movement of aircraft. Median annual wages of air-traffic controllers are the highest of any occupation in which workers typically do not need a bachelor's degree.

Median annual wage (2016): $122,410

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 7,500

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Long-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

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Liberal justices asked questions indicating support for maintaining the fees.

The court has a 5-4 conservative majority. Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, the court's newest justice and the likely deciding vote, did not speak during the argument.

Fellow conservatives Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito were particularly forceful in questioning the lawfulness of the fees, based on the notion that collective bargaining is in essence a political activity. Unions argue that their political activity is separate from negotiating contracts.

"Does this case affect the political influence of unions?" Kennedy asked union lawyer David Frederick.

"Yes," Frederick said.

"Isn't that the end of this case?" Kennedy said.

Liberal Justice Elana Kagan stressed how disruptive a ruling against the unions would be, leading to thousands of labor contracts being renegotiated and striking down laws in more than 20 states.

"When have we ever done something like that?" Kagan asked.

Dueling groups of protesters gathered outside the white marble courthouse ahead of the scheduled one-hour argument.

Union-backed protesters held signs saying "America needs union jobs," while those supporting the challengers had signs saying "stand with Mark," a reference to the plaintiff in the case, Illinois state worker Mark Janus.

Two dozen states require payment of these so-called agency fees, covering roughly 5 million public-sector workers. A Supreme Court ruling disallowing these fees would deal a setback to American organized labor at a time when the movement already is in a reduced state compared to the past.

Depriving unions of agency fees could undermine their ability to spend in political races. They typically back Democratic candidates over Republicans.

 

SIMILAR CASE IN 2016

The justices considered a similar case in 2016, and after hearing arguments appeared poised to overturn a 1977 Supreme Court precedent that let unions force non-members covered by contracts negotiated by organized labor to pay fees in lieu of union dues to help cover non-political union expenditures.

But the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia the following month left the court with an even split of conservatives and liberals, and its 4-4 decision in March 2016 failed to settle the legal question. The Monday's argument did not illuminate whether Gorsuch will, as expected, join his conservative colleagues in ruling against the unions.

Republican President Donald Trump's appointment of Gorsuch last year restored the Supreme Court's conservative majority.

The 2016 case was brought by non-union California public school teachers. Janus, the plaintiff in the current case, is a child-support specialist for the state of Illinois who opted not to join the union that represents employees like him, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

In both cases, the challengers argued that being forced to pay the agency fees to unions whose views they may not share violates their rights to free speech and free association under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

Unions in both cases contended that mandatory agency fees are needed in order to eliminate the problem of what they call "free riders" -- non-members who benefit from union representation, for example through salary and working conditions obtained in collective bargaining -- without actually paying for it.

More than a hundred people loudly demonstrated outside the courthouse.

Jeralee Smith, a retired teacher, came out to support Janus in the case. "To force a person to pay for something with which we disagree is a travesty for democracy," she said.

Dexter Guptill, a computer support technician for the American Federation of Teachers, said that if the justices rule against the unions, "my co-workers would wind up being forced to spend their effort representing essentially free riders."

Twenty-four states have agency fee requirements. While 28 states have so-called right-to-work laws that prohibit mandatory agency fees, Wisconsin and Michigan have exceptions for police officers and firefighters that permit agency fees covering those workers. In those right-to-work states, unions still represent workers but membership rates are lower.

Federal employee unions cannot collect agency fees.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Robert Iafolla and Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

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