For public employees forced to subsidize union politics—or lose their jobs—a U.S. Supreme Court announcement yesterday signals a potential end to this workplace coercion.
The Court indicated it will hear Janus v. AFSCME, which seeks to overturn the 40-year-old Abood v. Detroit Board of Education ruling that allows unions to extract fees from public sector workers as a condition of employment—regardless of whether they’re union members.
Currently, most public sector unions demand a monopoly on employee representation then require individuals who choose not to join the union and who don’t want representation to pay a fee to the union, or lose their jobs. The union claims this fee is needed for collective bargaining activities. For Pennsylvania teachers, it’s 74 percent of full membership dues (2016-17)—amounting to hundreds of dollars each year.
Janus argues that given the indistinguishable overlap of collective bargaining and political activities, these fees force workers to fund politics, violating their free speech.
Indeed, collective bargaining is inherently political. Public sector union leaders negotiate with elected officials —whom they often help elect—about expensive contracts funded by taxpayers and impacting national, state, and local operations and policy decisions.
Furthermore, public unions use dues and non-member fees to fund political activities, as the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s amicus curiae highlights.
The Janus defendants aren’t alone. Four Pennsylvania teachers have similarly sued the Pennsylvania State Education Association in objection to forced union fees. As one of those teachers, Greg Hartnett, explains:
Teaching is my calling, but I fundamentally disagree with many teachers’ union stances on personnel and political issues…Even though union leaders violate my beliefs, I must either give them a cut of my paycheck or lose my job. That’s coercion. That’s immoral.
Most of the nation agrees. According to an EducationNext poll, the majority of Americans and teachers oppose forced union fees for non-members.
Twenty-eight states have already banned mandatory dues or fees through right-to-work laws, which protect workers’ rights and require union leaders to be more accountable to their members.
Janus can deliver long-awaited freedom to Pennsylvania public workers. Yet, Pennsylvania’s elected officials can also continue to restore workers’ rights through legislation providing for regular votes on union representation, requiring increased transparency in the collective bargaining process, and preventing public resources from being used to fund union political spending.
No one should be forced to fund speech they disagree with. It’s time to restore the basic rights of all teachers and public servants.