SHANNON: SCOTUS Ruling Frees Our State’s Government Workers from Forced Union Dues

The Battle for Worker Rights Is Really Just Beginning

The U.S. Supreme Court just handed down a landmark ruling in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), ending forced unionization for more than seven million public sector employees.  This means every worker at every level of government, in every state, now has the freedom to choose whether to give a portion of his or her paycheck to a government union.

The man behind the legal challenge, Illinois state employee Mark Janus, told the court the requirement that he pay dues or “agency fees” to a government union to keep his job violated his First Amendment rights. His legal argument was simple—everything his union does, including collectively bargaining with the government, is inherently political, because it pertains to public policy and involves spending taxpayer money. Therefore compelling him to fund that union is forced political speech and a violation of his constitutional rights.

The ruling recognizes the constitutional freedom of association rights of workers in all levels of government and restores their power of personal choice.

The Court agreed. The ruling recognizes the constitutional freedom of association rights of workers in all levels of government and restores their power of personal choice. Those workers now have the right to decide for themselves whether to financially support a government union.

Prior to the Janus ruling, public employees had no choice. They were forced to pay for government union activities and policies with which many disagree, and that sometimes run counter to their own economic interests. For these workers, the government union they must give part of their hard earned wages to every month does not represent their best interests or reflect their values.

This does not mean they are anti-union, or that unions are bad. It simply means unions are not a good fit for everyone. In fact, in the private sector, 93% of employees do not belong to a union.

Of course, many public workers are happy with their union. The Court’s ruling does not affect them in any way. The decision in favor of Mark Janus and a worker’s right to choose does not prohibit them from unionizing, nor does it bar a government union from collectively bargaining on their behalf. If you like your government union, you can keep it.

The ruling simply means those workers cannot be forced to pay a government union in order to get and keep a job. In other words, government unions will have to operate like every other business or voluntary organization. They must convince workers the services they provide are valuable and worth what the union charges.

Government union executives say the Janus case is about union busting. That’s just inflammatory rhetoric and fear mongering.

Government union executives say the Janus case is about union busting. That’s just inflammatory rhetoric and fear mongering. Janus is about empowering public workers by restoring, and protecting, their right to freely choose whether they pay a government union for representation they do not want.

But the battle for worker rights is really just beginning. Rather than trying to convince workers of the value of their services, government unions are working overtime on schemes to circumvent the ruling and prevent workers from exercising their rights. Government unions in our state, aided by the lawmakers they helped elect, have already built a veritable gauntlet of roadblocks designed to confuse workers and make it difficult for them to choose to quit paying their union.

Our state’s public workers deserve better.

Washington Policy Center doesn’t think anyone should be forced to pay someone else for the privilege of working. It’s a victory for worker freedom that the U.S. Supreme Court agrees. Now comes the daunting job of making sure all public employees understand their right to choose.

To learn more about the Janus decision, how it impacts government workers, and how to exercise your right to reject union fees, visit www.washingtonpolicy.org.

Erin Shannon

Erin Shannon is the Director of the Center for Worker Rights at Washington Policy Center and manages WPC’s Olympia office.

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