SCOTUS Champions Worker Freedom in Historic Decision
June 27, 2018, Harrisburg, Pa. — For decades, government workers in Pennsylvania and other forced-union states have faced an unjust workplace ultimatum: Pay a union, or lose your job. But with today’s ruling in Janus v AFSCME, the U.S. Supreme Court finally opened a pathway for more than 330,000 government workers in Pennsylvania to regain their First Amendment rights of free speech and free association.
In a 5-4 decision, the court struck down compulsory union fees as a condition of government employment. The court overturned its 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which allowed unions to extract fees from government workers even if workers chose not to be union members and even if they disagreed with union activity.
“Today’s ruling is a huge victory for Pennsylvania’s teachers, public safety officers, and other public-sector workers who have long been victims of government union coercion,” commented Charles Mitchell, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation. “Our friends and neighbors in the public sector should never have been forced to fork over hundreds of dollars to support the political activity of organizations they disagree with.
“Without a doubt, the Janus ruling heralds a seismic shift in the landscape of public-sector labor law in Pennsylvania and across the country.”
Mark Janus, the lead plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME, is an Illinois government worker who contends mandatory union fees violate his First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court agreed with Janus’s argument that government union 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. Those choices, inherent to collective bargaining in the public sector, are political. Thus, forcing government employees to support an organization and its political activities violates their First Amendment rights of freedom of association and freedom of speech.
The court’s decision gives government workers grounds to assert their First Amendment rights, though steps must still be taken to enforce the ruling in Pennsylvania. A similar lawsuit brought on behalf of four Pennsylvania public schoolteachers against the Pennsylvania State Education Association could be the vehicle that applies the Janus decision to the Keystone State.
Keith Williams, after stepping away from his teaching career in Conewago Valley School District in Adams County, recently joined the nonprofit group Americans for Fair Treatment as director of outreach with the goal of educating government workers about their post-Janus rights.
“Sadly, government union leaders will do everything in their power to keep workers in the dark about the Supreme Court’s ruling,” commented Williams. “I left my teaching career behind to ensure that government workers are educated about their rights, equipped to speak out about the choices they make, and empowered to overcome obstacles standing between them and the freedoms most Americans take for granted.”
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 Michael Torres 850-619-2737 or [email protected] to schedule an interview.
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