Landmark Victory Helps Protect America Workers from Forced Unionism
On June 26, 2018, the Supreme Court struck down mandatory union dues, ending coercive unionism and overturning the Court’s four-decade-long precedent that required workers in 22 states to pay fees whether they were members of a union or not. Throughout history, organizations across the nation have forced American workers who were non-union members to pay their “fair share” in fees, chipping in for collective bargaining, representation, and numerous other services unions provide for employees.
According to Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, “While this victory represents a massive step forward in the fight to protect American workers from forced unionism, that fight is far from over.”
Supporters of what is now being referred to as the “Janus Decision” claim that the decision supports the protection of first amendment rights. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, asserts that the courts have upheld time and time again that freedom of speech includes both the right for Americans to speak freely as well as the right for them to refrain from speaking at all. The previous ruling meant that while unions were banned from spending the money on lobbying or political campaigns, they were allowed to collect recurring fees from non-members to fund contract negotiations.
Many people argue, however, that the money unions collect from non-members is often used for political activities, like elections and lobbying. And according to Alito, it is nearly impossible for unions to accurately separate political activity from collective bargaining. As a result, forced payments are often described as “compelled speech”, which grossly violates the first amendment.
How the Janus Decision May Impact the Labor Movement
Although many union officials say that the Supreme Court’s recent decision to side with Mark Janus in Janus vs. AFSCME was not surprising, the ruling could have a substantial impact on the labor movement.
Leaders of the four largest public sector unions in the nation, the NEA, AFT, SEIU, and AFSCME, are disappointed with the court’s decision but claim that it will be a “rallying point” for workers and unions. Limiting the power of public sector unions has been a goal for conservative groups for a long time. And as justices of the Supreme Court appeared poised to rule against the constitutionality of the fees in 2016, Justice Antonin Scalia died, and the case was deadlocked at 4-4. A new case, however, had been waiting in the wings since 2015. And this time, President Trump’s appointee, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch voted with the majority.
Alito speculates that the ruling could cause “unpleasant transition costs” in the short term for the labor movement. Long-term effects, however, are still largely unclear. With freedom of speech at stake, however, there are extremely strong reasons for overturning the case that was decided more than 41 years ago.
The Manhattan Institute think tank estimates that public sector unions could lose approximately 5 percent of the membership and around 30 percent of their income. These numbers equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars in income and thousands of American workers. In New York alone, public sector unions could lose more than $100 million annually.
According to the New York Times, “Most public-sector unions in more than 20 states with such laws are going to get smaller and poorer in the coming years.” Perhaps the more pressing question, however, is will the unions be significantly weaker as a result of the ruling. Union leaders insist that they won’t. In fact, many claim that the decision has inspired new energy and has opened the door for unions to engage more deeply with their members.
How Will the Janus Decision Impact the Public Sector?
It is estimated that the Supreme Court decision will free more than five million American workers from being forced to support views and actions that conflict with their wants and beliefs. Mark Mix asserts that “Today’s decision is a landmark victory for rights of public-sector employees coast to coast that will free millions of teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees from mandatory union payments.”
Mark Janus, who is the plaintiff in the case and a child support specialist for state government in Illinois asserted that “I’m thrilled that the Supreme Court has restored not only my First Amendment rights but the rights of millions of other government workers across the country.” Janus goes on to state that “The right to say ‘no’ to a union is just as important as the right to say ‘yes.’ Finally, our rights have been restored.”