Bethany Marcum: A Supreme Court case that could be the next Janus for labor unions

13
936

By BETHANY MARCUM AND STEVE DELIE

What good is a right if you don’t know you have it? What if you know about your right but are blocked from exercising it?

That’s the situation for millions of public workers. They have a constitutional right not to pay dues to government labor unions, yet unions are furiously trying to prevent workers from realizing it. The Supreme Court will decide any day whether to hear a case from Alaska that would ensure that all of America’s nearly 15 million teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public workers have the information and opportunity they need to exercise their fundamental rights.

Alaska’s request has its roots in the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME. The justices recognized that the First Amendment rights to free speech and free association mean public workers can’t be forced to support labor unions. That was the correct decision, yet unions quickly subverted it. At the time, unionized public workers nationwide had to opt out of union membership proactively. Unions have made that process as difficult and opaque as possible, with the goal of keeping as many members as possible. Such union roadblocks have made Janus far less impactful than it should have been.

The union tactics are as obvious as they are unjust. In many states, government unions simply fail to tell workers that they have the right to opt out of membership, giving the impression that membership is mandatory. Some states have passed laws that ban employers from telling workers about their rights. And in other states, unions make the opt-out process so burdensome, few if any employees can navigate it.

Examples abound. In Oregon, one government union requires members to opt out between 45 and 15 days prior to the anniversary of the day they signed their membership cards. But the union doesn’t provide a copy of the card, making the window difficult to determine. In Michigan, the main teachers union only allowed opt-outs in August, when teachers are least likely to think about it due to summer break. When that was ruled illegal in 2015, the union required opt-outs to be sent to an obscure P.O. Box. In Alaska, state employees can only leave a union during a 10-day period in June.

Alaska tried to end this injustice in 2019. Gov. Mike Dunleavy revoked government unions’ control over membership and dues deduction, instead putting the state in charge of getting workers’ consent. Under the governor’s plan, Alaska would inform public workers on an annual basis about their right not to join a union or pay union dues. Workers would have the opportunity to decide on union membership and dues payments every year – replacing opt out with opt in.

Sadly, Alaska’s plan never went into effect, after state courts issued injunctions and the state Supreme Court struck it down on questionable grounds. Other states have had more luck. In 2020, Michigan began requiring annual direct consent from most state employees before unions get a cent of their paychecks. Turns out, huge numbers of workers didn’t know they had the option to leave their union, since no one told them, union or otherwise.

In the two years since Michigan’s policy went into effect, more than 10,000 state employees have decided to opt out of union membership. Overall, the share of state employees in government unions has fallen nearly 10 percent, to just over two-thirds of the workforce. Clearly, many workers had been paying union dues when they didn’t want to, likely never knowing they didn’t have to.

What if all public workers knew their rights and had a clear path to exercise them? If Michigan’s experience is any indication, an estimated 1.75 million workers would leave their government union in the next year or two. They would finally avail themselves of their rights to free speech and free association, despite union attempts to keep them in the dark. Unions should respect workers’ wishes, yet even if they don’t, they should be compelled to respect workers’ constitutional rights. The evidence shows that most workers would likely still choose to remain union members. That’s their choice, and they should be able to make it, without the union tipping the scales.

Only the Supreme Court can free America’s public workers. The justices should fully apply the logic of their 2018 Janus decision. If public workers can’t be forced into government unions, then they should be fully informed of their rights and given the chance to opt into union membership on a regular basis. Anything less will let unions continue to deprive public workers of the information they need and the freedom they deserve. It’s long past time to fully respect public workers’ rights.

Bethany Marcum is the Alaska State Director for Americans for Prosperity. Steve Delie is Director of Labor Policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. This column first appeared at Fox News.

13 COMMENTS

  1. The monthly dues I paid were about $70/mo. Others may be different.
    $70 x 12 months x 30 years = $25,200 add interest and you have a nice downpayment for a car or something else for your retirement.

  2. Labor union’s, democrat party and the lying mainstream super spreaders. It’s not an ironic series of coincidences that thrive and prosper. The common denominator is that they all need an uninformed misinformed nation of bots.

  3. Public sector unions are democratic PACs – political, action committees – pure and simple. They exist to funnel money to Democrats and in point of fact Unions keep terrible employees in jobs, they’re both unqualified and unwilling to do. Public sector unions extort money/leave from employees to fund their Union boondoggles and they threaten anyone who they can’t bully into giving up their rights/money/benefits. It is well past time to drive a stake through the heart of public sector unions.

  4. Labor unions are simply communist organizations that depend on thuggery and intimidation to make sure members march in lock step and support union “leadership” boondoggles to Las Vegas. Yes, there are many people who want someone else to do their thinking for them but there are many, many more who don’t. Union workers are like sheep and they must obey – if that’s what you want then move to russia or china!

  5. I have to say, I’m not sure how much faith I have in the Ak Supreme Court since they have unconstitutionally clamped down on the full functionality of the Grand Jury by authoring a Court Rule. It clearly goes against the intent of the Alaska Constitution. And if they can do that it’s no wonder they make these kind of decisions re: Janus

  6. Labor unions once served a useful purpose. The makeup of society at the time put way too much control and power into the hands of oligarchs.

    Unions did a good job forcing a balance in the social equation. Did. An important word.

    It didn’t take long for unions to realize they could replace the Oligarchs in controlling people’s lives. In many ways it was worse, because unions were supposed to be on the side of the average working man.

    Now unions have lost most of the good they used to do in favor of chasing power. They have outlived their usefulness.

      • I believe he was referring to the Industrial Age, when children were exploited much like in modern China today. Now there’s laws preventing this in our country, yet our unionized workforce has no problem supporting Chinese labor practices.

    • Unions can still serve a purpose, but only in the context of competition. Business does not function well without competition; nor do unions. For a unionized business to compete with the open-shop, its union employees must also be competitive. If unions ignore this reality their employers will fade from the competitive arena.

      The above reality is why government unions are an abomination. Consumers are bit free to choose the services of alternate open-shop government. Our nation only has one government at each level of stratified authority–all unionized. Government employees prior to the mid-1960’s were protected by a social contract wherein they were assured the security of stable employment and career benefits without union involvement. As unions began to decline in the private sector, they turned to government as fertile ground for their survival. JFK opened the door for this metamorphosis to occur (his error). Today, the most promising career for the average high school graduate is that of government employee. That fact testifies to why our republic is in inexorable decline.

    • Unions can still serve a purpose, but only in the context of competition. Business does not function well without competition; nor do unions. For a unionized business to compete with the open-shop, its union employees must also be competitive. If unions ignore this reality their employers will fade from the competitive arena.

      The above reality is why government unions are an abomination. Consumers are not free to choose the services of alternate open-shop government. Our nation only has one government at each level of stratified authority–all unionized. Government employees prior to the mid-1960’s were protected by a social contract wherein they were assured the security of stable employment and career benefits without union involvement. As unions began to decline in the private sector, they turned to government as fertile ground for their survival. JFK opened the door for this metamorphosis to occur (his error). Today, the most promising career for the average high school graduate is that of government employee. That fact testifies to why our republic is in inexorable decline.

Comments are closed.