The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last Monday in a landmark case that could improve the lives of millions of workers.
In Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the court will decide whether the nation’s more than 7 million unionized public employees can be forced to pay a labor union for representation they do not want.
Mark Janus, a state child-support specialist in Illinois, says the AFSCME union is violating his constitutional right to freedom of association by making him pay a fee to keep his job.
Even though the Court hasn’t decided the case, union executives are not taking any chances. They have tapped the lawmakers in our state that they helped elect to pass legislation that would circumvent any court ruling that favors worker rights.
To be clear — a ruling in favor of Janus would not end union membership for public employees. It would not make it illegal for those workers to unionize voluntarily, nor would it in any way prevent unions from collectively bargaining on their behalf.
A ruling in favor of Janus would simply give public employees a choice they do not currently have — whether or not they want to give part of their hard-earned wages to the union. Workers would no longer be forced to choose between paying the union or being fired. Every public employee in the nation would be free to choose whether he or she wants to voluntarily pay a union for its services.
It is a hotly debated issue about worker rights and freedom of association, and proponents on both sides feel strongly.
Some people believe every worker should be forced to pay a union, even if some workers do not want that union to represent them.
Others believe the concept is so fundamentally un-American as to be almost unbelievable — that someone could be forced to pay an organization they want no part of, and often with which they fundamentally disagree, as a condition for holding a job. After all, the idea is at odds with all the basic rights America’s founding fathers designed our Constitution to protect.
Regardless how you feel about forced unionization, however, everyone should be outraged that many of our state’s lawmakers believe a decision by the nation’s highest court is nothing more than an inconvenience to be worked around.
Various bills are already moving through our state legislature that would provide an end-run around a ruling by the high court that might render the forced unionization of public employees unconstitutional.
The lawmakers who have sponsored the union-backed bills readily acknowledge their legislation is an attempt to circumvent a ruling in the Janus Supreme Court case.
They are unapologetic in their use of the legislative process to preemptively protect their organized labor allies, a powerful political force and generous campaign donor, from a ruling that would simply force unions to prove their value to public employees.
It isn’t surprising that powerful union executives don’t want to let a pesky thing like a U.S. Supreme Court decision stand in the way of their forced dues gravy train.
When unions took their first hit from the Court in the 2014 Harris v. Quinn decision, which ruled unconstitutional the forced unionization of home health care providers who were made state employees “solely for the purposes of collective bargaining,” the president of SEIU International declared “no court case is going to stop us.”
SEIU executives kept their word and have fought tooth and nail to prevent home care providers, and other so-called “partial public employees,” from exercising their right to reject paying the union for representation they do not want. Now they are adopting the same arrogant mentality in response to a potential Supreme Court ruling in favor of Mark Janus this summer.
What is surprising is that so many lawmakers in our state legislature are willing to do the unions’ dirty work and game the legislative process, all to preserve their political power and to deny public employees the right to freely choose whether to pay money to a union.
Erin Shannon is the director of the Center for Worker Rights at the Washington Policy Center. She has testified numerous times before legislative committees on small business issues.