The Corner

Law & the Courts

Supreme Court Case May Bring Workplace Freedom to Government Employees

An upcoming Supreme Court case could make union dues voluntary for all government employees. Unions are apoplectic at the prospect. But their preparations for defeat demonstrate how compulsory dues hurt workers.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association asks whether compulsory dues violate government employees’ First Amendment rights. The Court has long held unions cannot force workers to finance their political activities. However, the Court has permitted compulsory dues that only fund collective-bargaining expenses.

This distinction makes sense in the private sector. But everything government unions bargain over implicates public policy. Union negotiations determine how much the government will spend and how it will spend it. Government employees have diverse views on these issues.

Rebecca Friedrichs’s school district needed to cut costs in the recession. It could either lay off junior teachers or cut everyone’s pay. Although she has tenure, Mrs. Friedrichs supported the pay cuts. She wanted to keep good new teachers she worked with in the classroom. Her union disagreed and insisted — successfully — on layoffs. Rebecca Friedrichs had to pay her union to take that position.

On Monday her lawyers will argue that this was unconstitutionally compelled political speech. If Rebecca Friedrichs wins, union dues will become voluntary for all government employees nationwide.

Unions call this prospect an “attack on the middle class.” But their reaction to the case illustrates the problems with forced dues: They allow unions to take their members for granted. Unions do not periodically stand for reelection. In non-right-to-work states, they can force workers to purchase their services. This leaves little incentive to pay attention to their members’ concerns. Many government employees never even hear from their union. As the Washington Post reported:

The last time someone tried to call a lunchtime union meeting at the Upper Marlboro Parole and Probation office, things didn’t go well. Even with free food. “Nobody reported to the conference room, because they thought someone was there to sell them insurance,” remembers Monica Harris, who works there.… “A lot of people have lost faith in the union, because they haven’t seen anyone.”

With Friedrichs looming, government unions have begun outreach campaigns to their members. Why didn’t they do that before? Larry Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees admitted to the Post: “I think we took things for granted. We stopped communicating with people, because we didn’t feel like we needed to.”

Now unions need to. Their members may soon get a choice about paying dues. That potential freedom is already giving union members better representation. 

Most Popular

Culture

Cold Brew’s Insidious Hegemony

Soon, many parts of the United States will be unbearably hot. Texans and Arizonans will be able to bake cookies on their car dashboards; the garbage on the streets of New York will be especially pungent; Washington will not only figuratively be a swamp. And all across America, coffee consumers will turn their ... Read More
World

Australia’s Voters Reject Leftist Ideas

Hell hath no fury greater than left-wingers who lose an election in a surprise upset. Think Brexit in 2016. Think Trump’s victory the same year. Now add Australia. Conservative prime minister Scott Morrison shocked pollsters and pundits alike with his victory on Saturday, and the reaction has been brutal ... Read More
National Security & Defense

The Warmonger Canard

Whatever the opposite of a rush to war is — a crawl to peace, maybe — America is in the middle of one. Since May 5, when John Bolton announced the accelerated deployment of the Abraham Lincoln carrier group to the Persian Gulf in response to intelligence of a possible Iranian attack, the press has been aflame ... Read More
NR Webathon

We’ve Had Bill Barr’s Back

One of the more dismaying features of the national political debate lately is how casually and cynically Attorney General Bill Barr has been smeared. He is routinely compared to Roy Cohn on a cable-TV program that prides itself on assembling the most thoughtful and plugged-in political analysts and ... Read More
Film & TV

Game of Thrones: A Father’s Legacy Endures

Warning! If you don't want to read any spoilers from last night's series finale of Game of Thrones, stop reading. Right now. There is a lot to unpack about the Thrones finale, and I fully understand many of the criticisms I read on Twitter and elsewhere. Yes, the show was compressed. Yes, there were moments ... Read More