In a decision that has to the potential to gut public-sector unions, the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled 5 to 4 that non-union-member public employees don’t have to pay “fair share” or “agency” fees to the unions that represent them in collective bargaining and, in many cases, grievances.

The decision in the case — Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 — doesn’t mean the end of unions at public institutions, since some faculty and other employee unions are thriving in right-to-work states that ban such fees. But it means that unions in all states will have to work harder to convince workers to become and stay members — and pay the regular fees that support administrative staff and other activities. Agency fees are distinct from full dues and may not be used to fund unions’ explicitly political activity, but they make up a major share of union fees.

While the high court was widely expected to rule as it did, higher education unions were quick to criticize the decision as a politically motivated example of judicial overreach that will hurt workers and, by extension, higher education.

Frederick E. Kowal, president of the 42,000-member United University Professions union of State University of New York System faculty members and other employees, for example, said in a statement that if “the super-rich and the corporate elites that are behind this case, and so many others like it, think that this ruling is the end of unions, they are sadly mistaken.”

The case is “a blow to working families,” he said, but “we are stronger than those who are trying to blot out unions know. We aren’t going anywhere.” The UUP is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.

Pro-union faculty members also flooded social media with pledges to remain dues-paying members and otherwise support their unions going forward.

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