The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce this week whether it will hear a landmark labor case, Janus v. AFSCME.
At the heart of the case is this question: Should government workers be forced to pay money to a union as a condition of their employment?
Plaintiff Mark Janus is a child-support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. He is suing because he believes workers deserve the right to decide for themselves whom to support financially. Opposing him is the most powerful government-worker union in Illinois, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31. AFSCME says that if this is the job Janus wants to do, it is owed a cut of his paychecks.
Janus is caught in an unfair predicament, and he’s not alone. It’s estimated that at least 5.5 million government workers in 22 states are forced to pay money to unions just to keep their jobs.
“When I was hired by the state of Illinois, no one asked if I wanted a union to represent me,” he says. “I only found out the union was involved when money for the union started coming out of my paychecks.”
The First Amendment is on Janus’s side. It gives everyone the right to choose which organizations they will and won’t join or support financially. Janus’s lawsuit argues that a citizen shouldn’t have to give up that right just because he or she wants to advocate for children in child-support cases, be a firefighter, or teach in a public school.
But government-worker unions are hoping the Supreme Court will sidestep the Constitution to keep their current arrangement intact.
In an essay published four months ago, Naomi Walker, a former Obama administration associate deputy secretary of labor who now serves as the assistant to AFSCME’s president, summed up the union’s position:
Right-to-work laws allow [for] union “free riders,” or workers who refuse to pay union dues but still enjoy the wages, benefits and protections the union negotiates. Not only does this policy drain unions of resources to fight on behalf of workers, but having fewer dues-paying members also spells less clout at the bargaining table.
What’s missing here is any acknowledgement that forcing people to support government-worker unions has for decades constituted one of the greatest workplace violations of First Amendment rights in U.S. history.
Some unions are going to extreme measures to ensure they can coerce government workers to fund their organizations, even if Janus prevails at the Supreme Court.
According to the Center of the American Experiment, the teachers union Education Minnesota recently asked its local union representatives to get all 86,000 teachers to sign a “membership renewal” form. By signing this form, a teacher would authorize the automatic deduction of union dues every year in perpetuity. That authorization could be revoked in writing, during one seven-day window each year.
Unions and the Left will no doubt put out an abundance of misinformation if this case progresses. So it’s important to clarify what’s really at stake: First Amendment rights. If he is successful, Janus could give every public-sector worker in the U.S. the ability to decide for himself or herself whether to join and pay money to a workplace union. This does not mean that people who want to be in a union, want to accept the union’s representation, and want to support the union financially won’t still be able to do so; they will, regardless of the case’s outcome, because that is their First Amendment right.
If unions really deliver such great value and benefits, then, they should not fear a ruling in favor of Mark Janus. Every other group in American society has to convince people that it is worth supporting. There’s no reason unions shouldn’t have to make the same effort.