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Earlier this week, the Supreme Court handed down a huge victory for free speech and the First Amendment.
In the case Janus v American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the nation’s highest court ruled that public employees cannot be compelled to pay any union dues or fees as condition of employment because those fees fund collective bargaining that is inherently political in nature.
But what does this case mean, and what’s next for public sector workers?
Mark Janus, a child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, sued AFSCME for compelling him to pay “agency fees” as a condition of his employment.
Janus did not want representation from the union, and argued that these agency fees violated his free speech rights because collective bargaining with the government is inherently political. He’s right: public unions impact policies from taxes and spending to pay scales and pension liabilities.
“The union’s fight is not my fight,” Janus told the Illinois Policy Center. “For years it supported politicians who put the state into its current budget and pension crisis.”
More than 5 million public sector workers – including teachers, firefighters and police – across the 22 non-right-to-work states in this country, will no longer be forced to fund speech with which they disagree.
That includes teachers like Rebecca Friedrichs, who brought a similar case against the California Teachers Association before the Supreme Court in 2016. In her case, the court was split 4-4, after the unfortunate death of Justice Antonin Scalia. She now, along with millions of other employees, has the right to decide if funding union collective bargaining is right for her.
Over the past few decades, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership has declined. That’s due to a number of factors, one of which is that labor groups have failed to convince workers that the services they offer are beneficial.
With the Janus ruling, workers who don’t find union representation worth the cost will no longer be forced to pay agency fees. That means unions, just like any business in the private sector, must actually prove to workers that what they’re offering is worth the cost.
If unions don’t show that they offer valuable services and benefits, workers will simply choose to not become members.
Unions will undoubtedly complain that this ruling will create a “free-rider” problem in which they are forced to represent members who don’t pay for their services. But this is a problem of unions’ own creation: those workers like Mark Janus didn’t want union representation in the first place, and unions have opposed legislation in several states that would allow those workers to represent themselves while unions represent paying members only – because the union is more powerful the greater number of workers it represents.
But many public employees don’t want to be pawns in the union agenda. Thankfully, this court case has unleashed a newfound freedom for government workers in 22 states across this nation – the freedom to opt out of union membership if they so please.
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