AFSCME Local president: Supreme Court may give workers a choice, but unions still have a critical choice as well

June 6, 2018 -- Michael Thulen,  president of AFSCME Local 3790 and contributor to My Pay My Say

As president of AFSCME Local 3790 in New Jersey, I empathize with Phillip’s difficult position of being pitted between his personal principles and the coerced nature of the law. Like him, I have been anxiously awaiting a ruling from the Supreme Court. For me, it is the case Janus v. AFSCME, which could release me from being forced to pay a union that does not represent my best interests. Through its political activities, my union acts in ways that is opposite to my own political efforts. Masterpiece focused on the application of freedom of religion and Janus focuses on our First Amendment right to free speech. Nevertheless, the two cases have very little to do with a debate over the merits of any particular union, whether marital or labor, and everything to do with one issue: the freedom to choose.

I hope to see the Supreme Court restore my freedom of speech by ruling in favor of Mark Janus, thus freeing me and approximately five million government workers nationwide from being forced to pay a union as a condition of employment. Yet, this hope should not be misconstrued as a position against government unions in general. Unions have a storied history of empowering working-class individuals around the country to receive the consideration and appreciation they deserve. I am thankful to the early unions, which existed voluntarily and focused their resources on improving the lives of American workers. It’s a shame that not all, but many of these same unions have devolved into our modern-day compulsory political bodies. 

If Janus prevails, AFSCME and the many other government unions across the 22 states that mandate union fees for all public workers will also have the freedom to choose. Will they respect our First Amendment rights and return to the earlier union model of voluntary unionization that won the allegiance of their members through acts of genuine service? Or will they persist with activities that disregard and ultimately undermine the interests of workers they’re charged with representing?

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