Government unions are trying to trap employees into paying union fees for life

October 31, 2019 | By DEBORAH LA FETRA
Constitutional Rights of public workers

Last summer, the Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME affirmed that it is unconstitutional to force state employees to pay a public employee union simply to keep their job. Workers may choose for themselves if they want to join and pay a union.

Unfortunately, Janus isn’t stopping government unions from trying to trap state workers into lifelong union membership.

For decades, government unions have made millions off states forcing their workers to pay the union. Many unions view Janus as an existential threat. So in California, where public employee unions hold strong sway over the Democratic state legislature, the state passed several laws to poke loopholes in the Janus decision.

Here’s how the union’s plan works: Public employee unions nationwide claim that, regardless of the First Amendment rights recognized in Janus, public employees who joined the union prior to June 27, 2018 (the date of the Janus decision) may only stop paying union dues if they opt out during a short two-to-four-week window at the conclusion of the union’s existing collective bargaining agreement. For example, Teamsters Local 2010 claims that our clients in Jackson v. Napolitano are locked into paying union dues until a 30-day window in March, 2022.

These narrow opt-out windows would be obvious end-runs around Janus if the unions tried writing them into a contract after June 2018. But multiple judges ruling in different cases have agreed with the unions that workers who signed contracts before June 2018 can only exercise their constitutional right (to not pay the union) in these limited timeframes.

The Catch-22 of this absurd system is that if a union and government entity (that employs the union’s members) agree to extend the contract before it expires, the opt-out window gets pushed back years—potentially indefinitely. So under the current setup, unions could trap some state workers into paying the union for the rest of their careers without ever reaching their opt-out window. Government workers in California’s Alameda and San Bernardino counties have already been given the run-around by their unions using this maneuver.

This is a clear violation of state workers’ First Amendment rights.

PLF’s clients Mike Jackson and Tory Smith are fighting against the Teamsters’ window and related unconstitutional laws. If you are a public employee—or know a public employee—whose First Amendment rights are being violated due to a post-Janus contract extension, PLF would like to hear your story.