The Corner

Politics & Policy

A Prof Who Fought Compulsory Unionism Reflects on Janus

Last month’s Supreme Court ruling against the constitutionality of mandatory “representation” fees for public employees was a win for freedom and a defeat for the statist project of extracting wealth by force to use in pushing its agenda.

One professor who years ago fought against that is Charles Baird, who taught economics at Cal State East Bay for many years. California was and certainly still is under the control of public-sector unions and they used their clout to get monopoly bargaining and representational rights for all Cal State faculty whether they wanted it or not. Professor Baird sued and eventually won to the extent that his “agency fee” would not go into union coffers, but to a charitable organization.

In today’s Martin Center article, Baird recounts his unhappy experiences with compulsory unionism and explains why the Janus decision is a vindication of his battle.

Baird writes,

Throughout the struggle, the kindest thing my adversaries had to say about me was that I was anti-union. They missed the point. I am anti-coercion. If unions represented only their voluntary members and left non-members alone, I would have no complaint. Correctly understood, freedom of association is a fundamental human right. Faculty, as well as all workers, should be free to choose.

In Janus, the Court overruled a deeply flawed 1977 case (Abood), that permitted mandatory fee payments from public workers who chose not to be union members, on the ground that it led to “labor peace.” It didn’t lead to that, but only to the situation where unions didn’t have to earn the support of workers and were thus able to direct much more of their money into politics.

Following the Court’s decision, unions will have to seek voluntary support. Baird explains,

Janus will significantly reduce the money that unions have to spend. For example, the National Education Association has already cut its annual budget by $5 million because it fears that as many as 20 percent of its members will now drop out. Loss of income from departing members and non-members will weaken the unions’ clout both in politics and on the campus.

This is not, however, a complete win for freedom. As Baird makes clear, workers will not have that until we somehow get rid of the concept of exclusive representation, which means that workers cannot bargain for or represent themselves once a union has been certified.

That is probably a long way off, but Baird nevertheless concludes on this upbeat note:

Finally, since faculty unions are notorious for resisting change, Janus will weaken obstacles to the discovery and the adoption of academic innovations that serve the interests of faculty, students, parents, and taxpayers. Those interests, rather than the interests of faculty unions, give us all cause for hope in the future of higher education.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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