One step closer to protecting workers’ rights

December 01, 2017 | By DEBORAH LA FETRA

The Supreme Court briefing in Janus v. AFSCME is underway. You’ll recall that this Supreme Court case presents the First Amendment issue of whether public employee unions can garnish the wages of non-union members to support the unions’ collective bargaining and other political activities, without those workers’ consent. Mark Janus, a non-union public employee in Illinois, filed his opening brief on the merits earlier this week, and PLF—joined by an array of allies—filed an amicus brief today. The brief details how politicking pervades public employee union agendas, from collective bargaining (which involves the allocation of public resources—that is, tax dollars), to lobbying, to active participation in elections. As we write,

Public employee unions differ from private-sector unions in that they use money obtained ultimately from taxpayers to fund self-interested political machines that typically result in expanding government still further, at the taxpayer’s expense. At no point in the process does the taxpayer have a say. Yet public employees, like Mark Janus and his colleagues are taxpayers, too, and they do not agree with the political agendas these unions pursue. Nevertheless, thanks to this Court’s decision in Abood, their paychecks are regularly docked to subsidize these political efforts. There would be nothing objectionable with unions or any other group lobbying the government, supporting candidates, or opposing initiatives, as described in this brief—if they did it with their own money. To use the law to force Janus and others to support the union’s priorities against their own consciences violates the First Amendment and the basic principle that “‘to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.’” (quoting Thomas Jefferson).

The unions clearly are nervous about this case, sponsoring legislation in state legislatures to promote union representation, and to lock in worker “consent” by creating significant obstacles to the workers’ ability to exercise their First Amendment rights. After 40 years of garnishing worker paychecks under the authority of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the coercion must end. It’s about time the unions started thinking about how to offer value to workers so that they join the union voluntarily, yet it’s reflective of the union mindset that they lobby for special advantages not enjoyed by other voluntary associations. If union leadership actually reflected the goals and priorities of the membership, unions would not face such dramatic declines in membership when the unions can no longer garnish workers’ wages.