by Tim Pearce
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Monday in a case that could devastate the membership of public-sector unions.
Child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare Mark Janus sued the union that represents him over the constitutionality of compulsory dues subtracted from his paycheck every month. Janus is not a member of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union, but he must pay roughly $45 to it every month.
Janus’ suit could overturn the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that found public employees can be forced to pay an “agency” fee to a union for negotiating terms of employment for members and non-members alike. Janus argues that compulsory dues violate an individual’s right to free speech because negotiating with the government is inherently a political act.
Public-sector unions bargain and lobby state governments on the wages, benefits and workplace conditions of public employees. The discussions have a “profound” effect on the economy and use of public resources. For example, teachers’ unions negotiate classroom size and the educational goals educators are supposed to meet, Freedom Foundation Chief Litigation Counsel David Dewhirst told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The Freedom Foundation is a conservative think tank “working to reverse the stranglehold public-sector unions have on our government” and has filed a brief in support of Janus.
The Janus case has the potential to sever a massive cash pipeline for the Democratic Party. Unions spend overwhelmingly toward left-wing causes and political candidates versus right-wing movements and candidates.
“There is a huge amount of political money at stake. I mean, hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars every year flow just form the public-sector labor unions on the West Coast into the national political scene,” Dewhirst told TheDCNF.
Eight of the nine justices sitting on the Court have already considered a previous case seeking to overturn the Abood decision, and likely would have overturned it had Justice Antonin Scalia not died before the case was decided. The key vote in Janus now lies with Neil Gorsuch, nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed to the court last year. While Gorsuch does not have an extensive history in labor law, the justice’s conservative ruling in favor of religious freedom over birth control in Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius bodes well for Janus in the upcoming case, Dewhirst said.
While the Freedom Foundation predicts victory for Janus, “the real work starts the day after the decision comes out,” Dewhirst said. After the decision is released, “it has the potential to free hundreds of thousands of workers across the country” from compulsory dues.
Informing those workers, who live in 22 states currently lacking right-to-work laws for public employees, of their right to opt-out of paying union dues is another matter.
The foundation has been engaged in a similar, though much smaller effort to inform employees of their right to opt-out of public-sector union dues since a 2014 Supreme Court decision released home health aides paid through Medicaid from mandatory union dues.
The Freedom Foundation has taken to advertising, letters, phone calls and even canvassing neighborhoods to inform private home health aides that they are not obligated to pay union dues as a condition of employment. The campaign has achieved success. One union in Washington state lost two-thirds of its members to the foundation’s campaign.
The unions are fighting back, however. Intent on breaking the Freedom Foundation, unions have filed lawsuits, spent millions on political races and set up an initiative, the Northwest Accountability Project, to launch its own information campaign targeting, among others, the Freedom Foundation’s funding base and board members.
The foundation is hoping to fix the information problem by pushing the Supreme Court to outlaw mandatory opt-out laws, which require workers to personally opt-out of paying union dues rather than opt-in. Under opt-out laws, the wages of new workers are automatically scalped by public-sector employers to pay the union.
Whether or not the Supreme Court kills opt-out laws as part of its ruling, the Freedom Foundation is preparing for a massive expansion in its operations. If Janus wins, the foundation will have to grow from an effort concentrated mostly in Oregon and Washington to encompass nearly half the states in the U.S. And as the scope of the foundation’s work grows, so will the number of unions working to stop it.
“It’s an existential thing for unions … they’re reaction to this should be, ‘We should be a better union and provide something our members are willing to pay for,’” Dewhirst told TheDCNF. “That’s not their reaction. Their reaction is to try and kill us and try to control the information.”
“They treat their members like mushrooms: cover them in shit and keep them in the dark,” Dewhirst added.
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