The suggestion by union leaders and various pundits that the Supreme Court’s decision on Janus v. AFSCME will somehow deny teachers a voice — and will “defund and destroy” the unions — is absurd.
The case addresses an individual’s constitutional protection from coerced speech. It doesn’t deny unions the right to organize, recruit, bargain, strike, or collect dues from willing members. What it does deny is the unions’ right to force individuals who are opposed to their positions and policies to pay into union coffers.
As much as America’s teachers’ unions are labor organizations, they are equally or more so political organizations, lending huge support to political causes, campaigns, and candidates. That political activity — carried out by or under the direction of union leaders and funded by membership dues — is overwhelmingly left-of-center in nature. All of that is fine unless you’re a member who doesn’t want to be associated with those activities and doesn’t want to be forced to support them financially.
In theory, before today, public employees could choose to pay a reduced union fee that funded labor activities but not political activities. Yet this system proved unworkable. The distinction between labor and political activities is never clear-cut — especially when a union’s bargaining adversary is none other than the government — and public workers were still required to turn over money to organizations whose work they disagreed with.
No citizen of the United States can be compelled to support speech that he or she does not wish to support.
By fully releasing public employees from the obligation to support an organization they don’t want to join, this decision strikes a blow for the First Amendment. No citizen of the United States can be compelled to support speech that he or she does not wish to support.
While this might not be good news for the teachers’ unions, it is good news for the nation and for the thousands of educators who have long been exploited by the unions’ coercive tactics. It is also good news for families whose educational opportunities have been compromised by the unions’ unrelenting political war against charter schools — and against any type of education reform that operates beyond their dictates and outside of their control.
Education in America is in the middle of a major transformation that is struggling to realize its full potential. Various impediments, from apathy to lack of knowledge to deliberate obstacles created by unions, have kept education from advancing into 21st century. It’s that opposition that has, in part, earned the unions the antipathy of an increasing number of educators and a growing segment of the public.
The teachers’ unions may decry the ruling, but they would do well to look beyond the financial loss that it will entail and see the opportunity that it presents — the opportunity to secure support for their work based not on coercion, but on voluntary support from those who truly believe in the ideas, actions, and pronouncements of organized labor. They might also take this opportunity to abandon their entrenched stance against all things reform and embrace the cause of improving education for parents seeking new opportunities for their children.