Big Labor: The case of Janus v. AFSCME, now before the Supreme Court, pits an Illinois state employee against a giant government employees’ union in a fight over forcing nonunion workers to pay union fees. That U.S. law still lets states force public employees to surrender their constitutional rights in order to keep their jobs is as surprising as it is disappointing. It should have been overturned long ago.
And, in fact, it almost was. In 2016, in a similar case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the Supreme Court looked as if it would overturn the nearly 40-year-old precedent set in Abood v. Detroit, in which the 1970s court said that public employees could be forced to pay an “agency fee” to unions for collective bargaining.
The case for overturning the precedent looked like a slam-dunk. But following the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the court was left with just eight members. Instead of overturning Abood, the evenly split court deadlocked 4-4. The Friedrichs case was returned to the notoriously left-wing Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the pro-union, anti-worker law was — surprise! — upheld.
Now, two years later, comes Janus v. AFSCME. In it, Illinois child support specialist Mark Janus sued the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, arguing his First Amendment right to free speech was violated by requiring him to pay dues to a union he doesn’t even belong to and to support a political agenda he doesn’t even agree with.
At the heart of Janus’ suit is a central question: Is it constitutional to force someone who doesn’t belong to a union to financially support an extensive political agenda that he or she strongly disagrees with?
The court’s answer will determine the scope of union power over workers for decades to come, and not just in the 22 states that now have such laws on the books.
These so-called “agency fees” are supposed to pay for things that directly benefit workers, such as collective bargaining. That is one of the reasons why, under current law, even nonunion workers must pay the fees — because, presumably, they benefit from the union’s negotiating on their behalf for higher wages, better benefits and improved working conditions.
But if that sounds fair, it isn’t. Because, in fact, the money isn’t just used for collective bargaining. It also goes to fund the union’s extensive political agenda, including lobbying in Washington and advocacy for both candidates and political issues that the worker might strongly disagree with — or, as Janus himself put it, the union “uses my monthly fees to promote an agenda I don’t support.”
Forcing someone to pay money to support a political agenda they oppose is a clear violation of the First Amendment. Even so, overturning it might be difficult.
The union’s case, legal analysts agree, is weak. So as the Supreme Court listened to oral arguments on Monday in the case, as Betsy McCaughey notes elsewhere in IBD, instead of dazzling the court with their logic and legal erudition, the union’s lawyers “resorted to bullying, threatening labor strife if the long-standing Supreme Court precedent favoring mandatory union fees (Abood, 1977) is overturned.”
This is how the unions work. And, apparently, the liberal wing of the Supreme Court is just fine with such threats.
One of the reasons why Americans are often so disgusted with their local government is this domination by labor unions, which makes cost-cutting or efficiency virtually impossible. By taking money from those who don’t support their agenda, the unions are able to perpetuate their political control, making a mockery of democracy. In many states, unions now have not only influence, but a virtual stranglehold on the entire political system. California, where unions call virtually all the shots, is a case in point.
At minimum, no teacher, firefighter, police or other government worker should be forced to join a union. Indeed, no American should. Nor should those who don’t belong to a union be forced to pay dues to support a political agenda they don’t believe in. It’s not just unconstitutional — a clear violation of the First Amendment, as we said — it’s fundamentally un-American.
With a Supreme Court decision due on Janus v. AFSCME in June and a full complement of nine judges, we hope the justices get it right this time.