Pa. Teachers Support Worker Freedom Case Before Supreme

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a historic case, Janus v. AFSCME, that could free thousands of Pennsylvania teachers and other government workers from workplace coercion.

For decades, government workers in 22 states, including Pennsylvania, have faced an unjust workplace ultimatum: pay a union or lose your job. Even if these workers opt out of union membership, they still must pay the union a “fair share” fee as a condition of employment, which violates their constitutional rights.

But Mark Janus, an Illinois government worker and lead plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME, has fought for his First Amendment rights of free speech and free association all the way to the Supreme Court. And he’s not alone.

Several Pennsylvania public schoolteachers are adding their voices in support of workplace freedom:

“That public sector unions have ever been permitted to compel teachers and other public employees to fund their lopsided political agendas is a travesty of justice.”
—Keith Williams, English teacher, Adams County

“Like the rest of working America, where people earn their entire paycheck, no company, or organization (union) should be able to steal money out of workers' earnings. This should be a choice for each individual based on their personal values, morals, and concerns.”
—Mike Edwards, 6th-Grade teacher, Lancaster County

—Matt Eason, Health teacher, Chester County

“Every person has the right to freedom of speech and freedom to assemble without the threat of their livelihood being taken away. With coerced union dues I am forced to ‘associate’ and pay financial homage to a group with whom I disagree.”
—Julie Raab, Librarian, Dauphin County

“I pray the Supreme Court comes down on the side of liberty and freedom.”
— Frank Torquato, Music teacher (retired), Lackawanna County

“These teachers are speaking out because they want to practice the freedoms the rest of us take for granted,” commented Nathan Benefield, vice president and COO for the Commonwealth Foundation. “We urge the Supreme Court to rule in Mark Janus’ favor and free these teachers from being forced to choose between funding an organization they disagree with or losing their jobs.”

Under the Supreme Court ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), public employees who do not join the union can be required to pay “agency fees” or “compulsory fees” to the union to cover collective bargaining costs.

Janus contends that collective bargaining is political activity. Every public dollar spent on wages and benefits is a dollar that either takes away from other public priorities, such as road construction or public safety measures, or that requires tax increases. Thus, forcing public sector employees to support an organization and its political activities violates their First Amendment rights of freedom of association and freedom of speech.

In a 2015 nationwide survey of union members, 76 percent agreed that employees should have the right to decide, without force or penalty, whether to join or leave a labor union.

Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact John Bouder 570-490-1042 or [email protected] to schedule an interview.