Janus v. AFSCME is about First Amendment rights

Janus v. AFSCME isn’t about whether unions are good or bad. This case is about First Amendment rights and whether government employees can be required to sacrifice theirs.

Imagine having to pay a middle man to go to work. Pay up – or find another job. That’s the situation for more than 5 million government workers in 22 states. In Illinois, California, New York, Minnesota and other states, working in public service means paying money to a government union.

Collective bargaining is inherently political. Requiring employees to financially support a union whose politics and policies they disagree with as a condition of employment is a violation of their First Amendment rights. 

The question being asked isn’t an indictment of unions, it’s about people. To keep their jobs, should government employees in America be forced to fund political agendas with which they disagree?

Forced fees affect 5 million government employees in 22 states

In 22 states, paying union fees is a requirement for state government employees. For government workers who are happy with the services provided by their union and who fully support the political and policy agenda being advanced by their unions, this is not a problem. But government workers who disagree have no recourse.

Government employees in those 22 states can opt out of union membership, but they can’t opt out of paying the so-called “agency fees” which fund union activities.

Mandatory union agency fees can get expensive, especially for underpaid teachers and other civil servants. Mark Janus pays about $45 each month to AFSCME Council 31 in Illinois. Over a 20-year career in public service, this amounts to more than $10,000 in forced fees. The fees for some unions are much higher. For example, in Chicago, public school teachers pay more than $1,000 annually.

Government employees’ only options if they don’t want to fund a union at their workplace is to quit and find another job or move to a right-to-work state.

Who is Mark Janus?  

Mark Janus is an average guy. An Illinois resident, father, employee of the state and active participant in his community.  And as a child support specialist who works for the state’s Health Care & Family Services agency, Mark – like almost all Illinois government employees – has to pay mandatory AFSCME union fees.

Mark is not anti-union; he’s fine with anyone forming or joining a union. He just believes he should be able to keep his job and serve his community without being forced to support politics with which he disagrees.

Regardless of the Janus case outcome, government unions will continue to exist.

Janus v. AFSCME will not change anything for people who like their union and want to continue to financially support their union. Unions will still be able to bargain with government entities over things like compensation, work conditions and benefits. Anyone who wants to be in a union and pay money to a government union can do so. The case has no bearing whatsoever on unions in the private sector.

A Supreme Court ruling in favor of Mark Janus affects those who do not wish to financially support or join a union. Currently, 5 million workers in 22 states are required to pay a union at their workplace. A Supreme Court ruling in favor of Janus would offer all government workers the right to decide for themselves whether to financially support a union at their workplace.

Government employees who don’t want union representation are “forced riders,” not “free riders.”

No one should be pressured or forced to pay union fees as a condition of working in public service. Right now, government workers like Mark Janus – workers who are not union members – are forced to pay for representation they don’t necessarily want. Unions lobbied to exclusively represent and speak for government workers, regardless of whether these workers want union representation or support the unions’ policy positions. If unions do not want to exclusively represent all government workers, they can lobby for legislation to represent only dues-paying members.

Learn more about Mark Janus and find answers to other questions about Janus v. AFSCME.