STERGIOS: The U.S. Supreme Court’s Ruling in the Janus Case Reinforces a Core American Value

The Concept Is Simple, But Its Impact Will Vary Throughout the Country

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Janus case reinforces a core American value: Just as no one should ever be banned from joining a union, nor should anyone be compelled to support one with which they disagree. The concept is simple, but its impact will vary throughout the country.

Public employees couldn’t be required to join a union before Janus, but they could be compelled to pay an “agency fee” to fund “non-political” activity that covered the cost of activities such as contract negotiations and workplace grievance procedures. Of course, trying to distinguish between political and non-political activities is utterly artificial.

Guaranteed agency fee revenue made it all too easy for unions to stray from core concerns.

Unions are apoplectic about the outcome because they believe many workers will become “fee riders,” enjoying the benefits of membership without paying for it. But their members shouldn’t be. Union leaders are about to get a lot more attentive to member opinions – political and otherwise – now that they have to earn membership dues instead of raking them in automatically.

Guaranteed agency fee revenue made it all too easy for unions to stray from core concerns. Leaders rarely sought member input before making political contributions, and it’s unlikely that they regularly checked in with membership before opining on a wide range of issues.

No collective bargaining units take positions on a broader range of issues than teachers’ unions, and there can be little doubt that a number of members disagree with one or more of their unions’ positions on health care, environmental and immigration policy – not to mention their knee-jerk opposition to charter public schools or testing. Janus will force teachers’ unions to focus on what their members care most about: pay, benefits and working conditions.

However these impacts will not be uniformly felt. In 28 “right-to-work” states, where public employees can’t be compelled to pay fees or membership dues to a union, little will change.

Janus will force teachers’ unions to focus on what their members care most about: pay, benefits and working conditions.

Then there are states like Massachusetts. Here, nearly 80 percent of state legislators are Democrats, 17 of the 20 political action committees who give the most to candidates for state and county offices are labor organizations, and over 90 percent of labor’s contributions go to Democrats. The result is a Tammany Hall-like nexus between labor and the Democratic Party that doesn’t serve taxpayers well.

One example of that nexus is public employee union contract negotiations, which essentially consist of public officials bargaining with their benefactors. It’s probably safe to say this was not what the Founding Fathers had in mind, and Janus will be an important step toward levelling the playing field in Massachusetts, where unions are the “1 percenters.”

The concept behind the Court’s decision in the Janus case is a simple one. The impact of the ruling will be vary from almost non-existent in some states, to a much-needed tool for reinvigorating democracy in others.

Jim Stergios

Jim Stergios is Executive Director of Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank founded in 1988.

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