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Washington (AFP) – The US Supreme Court on Monday is set to take up a case that appears likely to deal a severe blow to the already declining union movement in America.

At stake is the issue of mandatory fees, which supporters argue are necessary to prevent non-union members from receiving the benefits of collective bargaining without assuming any cost.

Union leaders also say it is a crucial source of income for all their activities, from representing workers in contract negotiations to election spending.

But critics like Mark Janus, a child support specialist employed by the state of Illinois who brought the case, say docking their pay slips for organizations they did not sign up for is a violation of their constitutional right to free speech.

Janus is challenging a 1977 court ruling that declared that public sector workers can be required to pay a portion of union dues in order to cover their costs and stop non-members from becoming “free-riders.”

His case, which is being backed by the anti-union National Right to Work Foundation, is part of a decades-long offensive against labor representation by conservative organizations.

The issue last came before the court in March 2016 in a case brought by a group of California teachers. 

The court remained deadlocked 4-4 between its progressive and conservative wings at a time when its ninth seat was vacant.

But the elevation of conservative Neil Gorsuch to the court by President Donald Trump last year is likely to prove a decisive factor this time around.

Aware of the potentially crippling ramifications, dozens of pro-union activists were seen protesting outside the court building Monday morning.

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