Public Unions

Supreme Court Case Could Spell End of Mandatory Public Sector Union Dues

Would extend "right to work" principles to government employment.


If your workplace is a union shop, are you forced to pay union dues? Next week,* the Supreme Court will hear arguments about that.

When I worked at CBS and ABC, I was ordered to join the American Federation of Radio and TV Artists. That union had won a vote that gave them the right to speak for all reporters. I said, "I'm no 'artist.' I'm a reporter! I won't join!" But my bosses said they couldn't pay me unless I did.

In right-to-work states, unions can't force people to join. But only 28 states are right to work. Aging socialist bureaucracies like New York state are not among them.

But now the Supreme Court may say that no government worker, in any state, can be forced to pay a union.

"If we lose this case, the entire public sector will be right to work," warns Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME, the big government employees union.

That outcome would thrill Rebecca Friedrichs. She's the teacher who filed the right-to-work lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court two years ago.

Friedrichs got mad at the California Teachers Association during the last recession. Good teachers at her school were about to be laid off. She'd tried to protect them by getting all teachers to agree to a slight pay cut.

"All America was taking a pay cut then," she told me. "Why should we be any different?"

But her union wouldn't even allow her to survey other teachers. "They told me, Rebecca, don't worry about those teachers who were about to lose jobs… We're going to give them a seminar on how to get unemployment benefits."

That was one thing that made Friedrichs angry enough to sue the Teachers Association. Three years later, the Supreme Court agreed to hear her case.

Supreme Court watchers predicted that she would win. Union cheerleaders were pessimistic. Chris Hayes of MSNBC said that Friedrich's case might "decimate the way that public sector unions function."

But shortly before the justices voted, Antonin Scalia died.

"That was the most devastating day," says Friedrichs. Without Scalia's vote, the Court deadlocked 4 to 4.

Now a new suit has been filed by government worker Mark Janus. With Neil Gorsuch now the ninth justice, unions are worried.

In fact, they are so worried that AFSCME representative Steven Kreisberg agreed to do one of my YouTube interviews.

"Our members… want their union to have power," he said. "It's [Janus'] right to dissent and not be a member of our union. He only has to pay the fees that are used to represent him."

But what's the point of dissenting from the union if you still have to pay? Janus doesn't want to be forced to pay for something he doesn't agree with.

Kreisberg replied, "I'm not sure if he doesn't agree with it, or just simply doesn't want to pay because he'd like to get those services for free."

That's an argument a free-market advocate can understand: It's not fair if people freeload off others' work—getting benefits others fund. But who judges what is a "benefit"?

"If I saw their representation as a benefit, I could agree with that, but I don't," Friedrichs said. "The benefits aren't worth the moral costs."

Kreisberg responded, "That sounds like the words of a right-wing activist, not the words of a teacher."

Janus's lawsuit points out that Thomas Jefferson wrote, "To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."

Kreisberg had a quick answer to that: "Thomas Jefferson had no sense of 21st-century labor relations."

That's probably true. But some principles are eternal, like deciding what to do with your own money and not being forced to fund speech with which you disagree.

The justices will announce their ruling sometime this summer. I hope that they'll side with Jefferson. Forcing people to pay for what we don't want is tyranny.


*CORRECTION: The Supreme Court arguments in the Janus case will be heard next week, not this week.

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49 responses to “Supreme Court Case Could Spell End of Mandatory Public Sector Union Dues

  1. Friedrichs said. “The benefits aren’t worth the moral costs.”

    Kreisberg responded, “That sounds like the words of a right-wing activist, not the words of a teacher.”

    There are many things I could say to this, but I will choose to say only this. Don’t jerk off right wingers even more by saying they’re the only ones who can talk about moral costs.

    1. That guy is a piece of shit. I do not know how someone can honestly think it is morally ok to force someone to pay for something they do not want, something that actively tries to control their speech.

      1. Re: JoeBlow123,

        I do not know how someone can honestly think it is morally ok to force someone to pay for something they do not want

        Like, for instance, the wall.

          1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

            This is what I do…

        1. The wall is a national security measure funded by taxes. Do you believe that national security is considered “speech”?

          Federal labor unions are private entities. Their dues are private funds paid to private entities. Do you believe that those dues are equivalent to taxation? If so, from where does federal labor union taxation authority originate?

          The answers to these questions are clear. The wall is not speech, and union dues are not taxes.

          1. I do not know how someone can honestly think it is morally ok to force someone to pay for something they do not want

            Still applies. How is it morally ok to force people to pay tax money to support a wall that the majority of taxpayers do not want? (Polling on this subject is confused, but I’ve never seen a poll with higher than 42% support)

            1. Your elected representatives in Congress spend your tax dollars. You authorized them to spend your tax dollars at your polling station.

              That is the very foundation of a representative republic.

              I may disagree with how some of those tax dollars are spent, but to claim that Congress is acting against the will of the people is silly – the people elected them.

              1. Zerofoo, what is it about the people having elected them (the people didn’t) that makes it silly to condemn their acting against the will of the people?

                Elected officials (e.g., Trump) betray those who voted for them more often than they fulfill their campaign promises.

                Of course, they betray all the others who merely neglected to vote against them (for the other betrayer), too. Will of the people? Hah!

        2. I will admit this is a clever response. I do think there is a difference between forcing individuals to pay taxes and forcing individuals to pay union dues. You also have a chance to exercise your political rights and change the rules by voting for new politicians, it does not seem like people in non-right to work states have the same opportunity.

          Some of you libertarian guys on the far end towards anarchy have persuasive morally absolutist arguments on how humans should be treated in a moral fashion, like the arguments towards open immigration. I do not, however, think you are realistic in the things you argue for. The ideals are good to keep in mind, but I do not think it is wise to pursue them. It is for these reasons I cannot really support your propositions to abolish borders and immigration enforcement.

          1. The real pitfall here is the Obamacare individual mandate. If the government can force you to buy an insurance product from a private insurer, then the government can force you to pay union dues or levy a “tax” if you don’t.

            I suspect there are more than a couple of SCOTUS justices who would endorse this perverse line of thinking.

            The government should not compel private citizens to purchase anything from private businesses – and should not be permitted to accomplish this under the guise of taxation.

            1. “I suspect there are more than a couple of SCOTUS justices who would endorse this perverse line of thinking.”

              I’m sure of it. Let’s just hope it’s not more than four.

        3. “” Like, for instance, the wall.””

          The wall would be paid by tax money. So you could just say taxes.

        4. Like for instance, SNAP, WIC, SS, Medicare, Medicaid, EV tax credit, EITC, child tax credit…all sorts of taxpayer-funded outlays that I don’t want to fund, either.

        5. Sign me up for any program where I can direct my tax money to specific parts of the federal budget, and not others. If we had that, my guess would be we’d have a wall.

  2. Kreisberg replied, “I’m not sure if he [Mark Janus] doesn’t agree with it, or just simply doesn’t want to pay because he’d like to get those services for free.”

    Or maybe the person cares not for your ‘services’.

    “But who judges what is a ‘benefit'”?

    Why, the Union gets to decide!

    Thuggery means never having to say “I’m sorry.”

    It also means never having to justify your circular argument.

    1. It’s hilarious: The unions demand you pay dues because they negotiate on your behalf. But, they also demanded that they be the only organization to negotiate on your behalf, that you be forbidden from forming a competing union or doing it yourself.

      You call somebody a “free rider” after kidnapping them into your car!

    2. That is the conundrum of unions. They are “you are with us or against us” organizations. They have no room for individuality, and the true believers do not seem to even grasp the concept except in terms of disgust.

      1. Resistance is futile.

  3. One of the good government reforms of 19th Century was to make it illegal for politicians to require the non-political civil servants under them to conbtribute to the pols campaigns or else lose their jobs. It is difficult to see how outsourcing that threat to a union is any different.

  4. Kreisberg responded, “That sounds like the words of a right-wing activist, not the words of a teacher.”

    Sick burn! Oh man, the tears of the union-Democrat complex as they watch their scam crumble are going to the yummiest in a generation.

  5. “”Supreme Court Case Could Spell End of Mandatory Public Sector Union Dues””

    Then the unions will blame SCOTUS instead of themselves for their pension failures.

  6. I can almost sorta kinda understand the free-rider problem, but that only extends to actual member-supporting activities. Using union dues for electioneering is a different story altogether, especially when talking about government-employee unions.

    1. As a libertarian *and* a member of a public teacher’s union (yes, we do exist, and I for one feel “caught in the middle” every time these issues arise)…

      My views more-or-less agree with Mpercy’s. I was perfectly happy to join my union a decade ago. And I’m pretty happy when it (1) acts like a labor union, negotiating on my behalf, or even when (2) the state-level union works for efforts that I agree with and think can be justified on “better education grounds,” such as limiting the spread of standardized testing. I’m not so happy when (3) the state-level union works for efforts I disagree with, such as spiking the recent attempt to increase the caps on new charter schools in the state.

      (1) is pretty straightforward, and (as Mpercy points out) is the purpose of unions intrinsically subject to the free-rider problem. On a personal level, I’d *like* to keep (2) and get rid of (3), but I can’t see any principled way to differentiate between those two. So, if a S.C. decision eventually caused public-sector unions to forego both (2) and (3), and stick to only (1), especially on first-amendment grounds, I’d probably be OK with that.

    2. [continued — I had to split my reply for reasons of length]

      “Electioneering” for specific candidates is tricky, because it doesn’t fall neatly into any of the 3 categories. I honestly doubt my union *has* much effect; my union’s pick for mayor (whom I supported because he was much less likely to gut the union’s ability to negotiate health benefits) lost a close election. But I do see, in some locales throughout the state and the nation, more powerful unions (especially the police unions) make it nearly impossible for candidates to reform police practices. So… tricky.

  7. Two or three “right”-leaning justices will fold like tissue paper.

    1. Nah. I don’t see why their votes would change from the similar case 2 years ago.

  8. Kreisberg replied, “I’m not sure if he doesn’t agree with it, or just simply doesn’t want to pay because he’d like to get those services for free.”

    Steven Kreisberg made $200,402 last year.

    “If we lose this case, the entire public sector will be right to work,” warns Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME

    Lee Saunders made $356,224 last year.

    If you review any LM-2 report unions file with the US DOL, you’d see all unions are inherently corporate in nature. They have massive real estate holdings and investments (AFSCME holds $176M in US T-Bills). They have massive liabilities (AFSCME holds $74M in Accrued Post Retirement Benefits). They advertise on Facebook (AFSCME spent $150K on Facebook ads). They fund think tanks that promote whatever financial jibberish supports higher taxes ($250K to Center For American Progress). Unions are basically corporate entities without the pressure of profits or producing something of value. And now they are afraid the value of their product or service will decline when folks are no longer forced to pay. Seems like the unions need a re-awakening.

  9. I like the “what are union’s afraid of” sign.

    That you will find out they are running out of your pension money. So pay up!!!

  10. I actually can see his free-rider problem. I don’t know if it’s truly applicable, and I don’t think that forcing somebody to join a union is right. But he does have a point: unions do provide some benefit to employees (although, of course, they also provide costs).

    1. Look into public sector unions demanding higher minimum wages then simultaneously exempting their membership from those regulations. That’s the kind of thing that’s arguably not a benefit for their membership at all.

      1. In terms of my response above, raising the minimum wage would be in category (3), even if it *didn’t* include the union exemption. I’d mostly agree with BYODB; that seems like political advocacy at best unrelated (and at worst contrary to) the benefit of the membership, except insofar as it prevents competition (which pretty much automatically makes it my least favorite type of union activity). I suspect that union leaders view it as part of solidarity with other workers (really meaning other unions– strength through alliances!) or some such.

        1. Unions are, simply put, antithetical to libertarian thought. They are a socialist construction, plain and simple, and they seek to ’empower’ labor with the end-goal being seizing control over whatever entity they happen to be attached to.

          The fact they attached themselves to public employment paid out of tax dollars should be a pretty big clue that they are one of the very things those who critiqued democratic systems foresaw being the downfall of them. (I.E. the populace voting themselves largesse from the treasury)

          If ‘teaching’ can’t survive a free market, that says rather a lot to me.

          1. Byodb, I disagree. Libertarianism and socialism are not opposites when both are in the private sector.

            A social group or organization is very useful in this sort of situation, to prevent power balances from going out of whack. If we had a truly laisse-faire government, then Unions would become necessary again. Regulations such as OSHA and minimum wage laws are what have made them mostly irrelevant.

            The problem is when they grow beyond control without any counterbalance. When people cannot just refuse to participate when they are clearly acting negatively, petty, or contrary to the well-being of the group.

  11. Outlaw public employee unions. Problem solved.

  12. Supreme Court watchers predicted that she would win. Union cheerleaders were pessimistic. Chris Hayes of MSNBC said that Friedrich’s case might “decimate the way that public sector unions function.”

    But shortly before the justices voted, Antonin Scalia died.

    Hmm, suspicious timing… could the unions have something to do with this?

  13. If it threatens a public sector union, I wager nothing will happen.

  14. That should have have been done 50 years ago.

  15. There is a flip side of the layoff story, that of merit pay.

    I went to see a principal to commend a teacher who really impressed me. I asked that this instructor be given consideration at “raise time” for merit above and beyond the call of duty. I was given a lecture in no uncertain terms that there is no such thing as merit pay in California public schools – unions would not allow recognition of excellence. I thought to myself why would anyone want to work in a system in which they could not climb the ladder on their own initiative? Then it dawned on my why my children had some bad teachers that could no be fired. Every year there was a scramble to get kids of one teacher’s class because her reputation was terrible.

  16. I don’t get it.

    I’d have expected libertarians to be opposed to right-to-work as a matter of principle, because it takes away the employer’s right to decide on the conditions of employment. How is, “join the union or you’re fired” any different from, say, “wear a tie or you’re fired”?

    1. Because its not “join the union or you are fired”

      its is more accurately described as

      “you must fire or refuse to hire anyone who refuses to join the union”

      The union is imposing the condition, not the employer.

      1. Do you mean that there are laws in non-right-to-work states that say employers must require union membership?

        (My brief research did leave me slightly uncertain on this point, but it appeared that right-to-work was a law saying employers must not require union membership, not merely the absence of a law saying they must.)

        1. No

          As part of a CBA, the Union almost always include as one of the terms that employees must maintain membership in the Union (or at the very least pay dues) and that if an employee refuses to join or pay dues they must be released.

          Theoretically an employer could of its own choice ask for such a provision in a CBA

          Right to work says that such a provision cannot be part of a CBA.

          Now, apart from the fact that they love the sweet sweet dues that come in every month(being able to compel the dues means more money), Federal law encourages unions to demand such a provision in a CBA by compelling the union to represent all workers, even those that want nothing at all to do with the union or its alleged benefits.

          1. That’s what I thought; in a non-right-to-work state, it is up to the employer to choose whether to agree to a union-shop clause or not.

            So right-to-work laws violate the principle of freedom of contract, “a cornerstone of free-market libertarianism” (Wikipedia).

            1. I wouldn’t say that.

              You are forgetting that under the NLRA, the government is compelling the employer to deal with the Union once a Union has been formed.

              Allow me to restate one of the major NLRA provisions.

              Once a Union has been formed and recognized by the NLRB, the NLRA prohibits individual employees from negotiating with the employer on their own behalf, and also prohibits a competing union from being formed to bargain with the employer on behalf it its members.

              Basically the NLRA is a law that privileges whatever Union happens to be recognized, at the expense of the employer, individual employees, and any competing unions that might be formed by employees who might wish to bargain collectively but do not approve of the government recognized union.

              Get rid of all the violations of freedom of contract above and then RTW becomes a big problem. As it is, RTW restores to employees the ability to come closer to choose for themselves whether they want union representation.

              1. OK, that explains it – thank you.

            2. Also, there is the fact that existing unions mean that new companies cannot form in a region and be non-union. You cannot hire anyone with experience. Furthermore, actual violence has resulted on numerous occasions when a company tried to set up a non-union (or even different-union) shop.

  17. The thing the Union people don’t seem to understand is that, seeing how they have screwed generations of pupils to benefit the Union, Justice would be giving them a fifteen minute headstart before we go after them with tar and feathers.

    What I’m willing to accept in the spirit of compromise is breaking their power to enforce dues on people.

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