By Jeffrey Schwab
The government can no longer force its employees to pay a union as a condition of their employment. That’s what the Supreme Court decided on Wednesday in the case Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
This decision is life-changing for about 5 million government workers in 22 states, who have been forced to give part of every paycheck to a government union just to do their jobs.
Workers who chose not to join a union in those states were still required to pay agency fees, which purportedly covered only nonpolitical union activities like collective bargaining and administrative costs.
But this week, the Supreme Court recognized that the activities of government unions (such as collective bargaining and the government unions themselves) are inherently political. Government unions exist to lobby the government to spend its money and use its resources in ways the unions believe benefits workers, just as other groups lobby the government to spend its resources in ways that benefit their constituents.
However, the First Amendment prohibits governments from forcing people to fund political speech they don’t agree with and, therefore, the Supreme Court found that the government could not compel workers to contribute money to a union.
In the wake of this ruling, you will likely hear a lot from government unions and their political allies about what this decision means. But here are the facts.
Individuals have a First Amendment right not to be forced to pay money for political activity that they do not support. Could the government force you to pay the Republican Party for that tax cut you received, or the Democratic Party for your healthcare? Of course not!
Government unions will say that it’s not fair that they are required to represent nonunion members in collective bargaining who don’t pay them for those benefits. But there is no reason to think that every benefit that the union negotiates is exactly what every worker would negotiate for themselves.
Additionally, in right-to-work states where this framework has been in place for years, government unions have chosen not to lobby their state governments to amend the law.
The fact is unions benefit tremendously from the ability to exclusively bargain on behalf of all workers. That’s because exclusive bargaining power is extremely valuable: It provides unions with the power to speak and contract with the state on behalf of all employees in a unit and the power to compel state lawmakers to listen to them and bargain in good faith, while the state is prohibited from dealing with other employees or employee associations.
You may also hear that the Janus ruling undermines government unions’ ability to collectively bargain. But unions are still free to collectively bargain on behalf of all workers in their bargaining unit. They will simply have to convince those workers to voluntarily pay for it — just like every other private organization.
Finally, you may hear that, as a result of the Janus decision, workers will no longer have a voice. That is simply false. Workers didn’t have a voice before this case because they were forced to fund a union even if they disagreed with the union’s values. Now workers have a voice and a choice: If they support the union, they are free to contribute, and if they don’t, they are no longer forced to pay for it.
Jeffrey Schwab is a senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, which represented Mark Janus in Janus v. AFSCME. He litigates cases to protect the rights to free speech, economic liberty, private property, and other Constitutional rights in both federal and state courts in Illinois.