Public Unions

Public Sector Unions on Trial

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The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case this term that could deliver a death blow to the legal privileges enjoyed by public sector unions.

The case is Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. At issue is whether it is constitutional for state governments to require government workers to pay union fees as a condition of employment, even when those workers are not themselves union members.

The case was brought by Mark Janus, a state employee in Illinois who objects to paying mandatory fees to a union that he refused to join. Janus argues that this violates his First Amendment rights by forcing him to financially support political speech and activity he does not agree with.

Janus' overarching goal is to overturn the Supreme Court's 1977 precedent in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, in which the Court approved mandatory public sector union fees on the grounds that non-union "free riders" should have to contribute something toward collective bargaining activities that benefit them. Over the past four decades, that ruling has provided a major boon to the treasuries of public employees unions. (A separate area of jurisprudence covers private sector unions.) The petition filed by Janus and his lawyers calls on the Supreme Court to "overrule Abood and declare [mandatory public sector union] fees unconstitutional."

For obvious reasons, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees takes the opposite view. The existing precedent "is sound and underlies important and longstanding tenets of this Court's First Amendment jurisprudence," the union said in its brief. "At its core, Abood acknowledged that certain labor-relations interests justify the small intrusion on employees' First Amendment interests that fair-share payments represent."

The high court tackled a similar question in a 2016 case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. But after the sudden death of Antonin Scalia, the justices could not reach a majority decision and deadlocked 4–4. Most court watchers believe that if Scalia had been able to vote, Abood would have been overturned 5–4.

The Supreme Court is now back to its full strength. Will Scalia's replacement, Justice Neil Gorsuch, provide the fifth vote needed to overrule the precedent? We'll find out later this term.

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7 responses to “Public Sector Unions on Trial

  1. “At its core, Abood acknowledged that certain labor-relations interests justify the small intrusion on employees’ First Amendment interests that fair-share payments represent.”

    Can they list specifically what union interests justify violating Constitutional rights?

    And since it is governments doing so here, they had best have something more than “We negotiate for a guy who never asked us to do so”

    1. Oh, sure we can, sure we can! Here, here’s a 500$ check we got from that guy… Annnd here’s a 1200$ check we got from that guy… And, ooh, here’s a 6,240.25$ check we just got from that guy, backsies for overdue payments you know… And here’s a-

  2. I notice anyone who complains about mandatory union dues doesn’t offer to give up the wages, benefits, and representation during a discipline hearing that those dues provided.
    Ok Mr. Janus. You go into your boss’s office and negotiate on your own better terms and conditions for your employment.
    See if you can get a better deal.

    1. Bernie Sanders claimed that he wanted to force rich people to give me free healthcare, tuitionless college and a pony of my very own if he’d been elected president. If he had won, should I be legally required to make campaign donations for him in future elections, so long as I continue to collect said “benefits”? Or does your presumption that you know voters’ interests better than they do extend only to union negotiations?

      Besides, who says he didn’t offer to give up those benefits and representation? He refused to join the union, remember? Why would a company pay union wages to a non-union worker? Regardless, here’s hoping neither he nor those workers get that “better” deal. Because every dollar and benefit accrued from the *cartelization*- and yes, that is exactly what it is- of a company’s workers is, by definition, unearned. Competition between employers is what raises wages in a meritorious, mathematically sound economy; extorting a company into raising wages via its employees’ threats will inevitably lead to their being paid above what the market can fairly sustain, because the employees can jump ship if the compny goes under, but the company itself cannot.

      Oh, and “TL;DR”, as the kids say: Compelled Speech.

      1. Bernie Sanders claimed that he wanted to force rich people to give me free healthcare, tuitionless college and a pony of my very own if he’d been elected president. If he had won, should I be legally required to make campaign donations for him in future elections, so long as I continue to collect said “benefits”? Or does your presumption that you know voters’ interests better than they do extend only to union negotiations?

        Wondered that myself. Does anybody who was given a tax cut by the GOP now HAVE to donate money to the GOP for what they did for them? Sure, they didn’t ASK for it, but they got the benefits. And you know they won’t pay the higher tax rate (as I frequently remind Progressives, you are always free to pay MORE than you owe in taxes if you really feel it is unfair) willingly.

    2. I notice anyone who complains about mandatory union dues doesn’t offer to give up the wages, benefits, and representation during a discipline hearing that those dues provided.
      Ok Mr. Janus. You go into your boss’s office and negotiate on your own better terms and conditions for your employment.
      See if you can get a better deal.

      My company is both union and non-union.

      They also expressly state the deals that the union guys get.

      My deal has been better for about 12 years now. And if the union guys go on strike, we can work around them and ignore it nicely.

      I bet the workers would sacrifice the “higher pay the union gave them” in exchange for every penny the union stole from them to be given back with interest.

    3. Question then, have you ever donated to the ACLU? But I would be willing to bet that you sure enjoy the freedoms and liberties they (most of the time) fight for us.

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