A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down so-called "fair share" union fees could mean less income for national unions and, consequently, less monetary support for state and local chapters.
Will that translate to higher union dues?
That's unclear, Kansas teachers union officials said Wednesday.
"There will be some financial conditions that will change," said Marcus Baltzell, director of communications for the Kansas National Education Association.
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"I don't know how the trickle-down effect would apply to us. . . . We'll see when that time comes."
Wednesday's 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME said government workers, such as police officers, firefighters and teachers, can't be compelled to contribute fees to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining.
Kansas, a right-to-work state, doesn't allow those fees anyway, so there won't be an immediate legal impact from the ruling. But union officials said the decision undermines government workers and public schools nationwide.
"There are groups that are really pushing these anti-labor cases along, and clearly we have a court that's a lot more favorable to business and much more unfavorable to workers," Baltzell said. "That's just the condition we find ourselves in as a nation."
Representatives of the Wichita Firefighters and Fraternal Order of Police could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The Wichita school district — the state's largest, with about 50,000 students — recently launched negotiations with the local teachers union for a contract set to begin Aug. 1. Although about 4,200 teachers, counselors and other certified employees are covered by the contract, only about 45 percent pay dues and are members of United Teachers of Wichita.
Baltzell, the KNEA spokesman, said Wednesday's Supreme Court decision — combined with recent budget battles, pay freezes and a 2014 law that stripped teachers of due process rights — may inspire more teachers and other workers to join unions.
"Over the last few years our membership in every area has been growing, and I don't see that changing," he said.
"Educators are connected to what's going on. They're very deeply concerned about what's going on not just in their classrooms, but in the future of our state and our nation. . . . All this stuff serves to do is to galvanize people into seeking the positive change that we need."
Esau Freeman, business representative for Service Employees International Union Local 513, which represents city and school district workers, said he thought Wednesday's court ruling could drive union membership up.
"You can call me an eternal optimist, but I think the American public is a lot smarter than they're given credit for," Freeman said. "I think people will start to join together and stand up to employers who are taking more than their fair share, who are lowering our insurance benefits, making everything cost more, and not paying the workers for what they do."
Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita, said he'd like to see local teachers union membership above 50 percent before the end of his second term, which started this month.
Over the past several years, Wichita teachers have rallied at school board meetings and at the Kansas Statehouse for increased school funding. Two years ago, the union staged a "work to the contract" day as a show of solidarity against what they said was decreasing respect for educators.
Last year's Wichita teachers contract included a 3.95 percent pay raise for teachers, along with a return to shorter school days and a longer year.
"While we are used to this second-class treatment in Kansas, UTW believes it is important to remember the truth — this is a direct attack on public education," Wentz said.