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Janus v. AFSCME Could End Forced Union Dues in Public-Sector

Today, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center asked the United States Supreme Court to hear a case that could end forced union dues payments in the public sector as a condition of employment. The plaintiffs argue that government employee unions’ collection of dues from non-members amounts to forced political speech and a violation of their First Amendment rights.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation explains how the case got to this point:

The request for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case follows a March ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which upheld forced dues and fees based on the Supreme Court’s 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision. The plaintiffs in Janus v. AFSCME argue that Abood was wrongly decided and should be overturned, especially in light of subsequent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have applied strict scrutiny to mandatory union fees.

Many expected that precedent set in Abood would be overturned last year. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court deadlocked in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association and public sector workers in 22 states were forced to continue sending a portion of their paycheck to government unions, whether they wanted to or not.

No employee should be forced to finance an organization he or she disagrees with, especially highly political organizations like government-employee unions.

Powerful public employee unions commonly argue that they do not spend any forced union dues payments on political activity.  And because they are saddled with the duty of fair representation, meaning they have to represent full-fledged members the same as non-members, government unions deserve to siphon off money from non-members’ paychecks.

This reasoning is bogus on several levels.

First, almost all government unions’ actions are inherently political. Most items bargained over in the public sector, such as class sizes, teacher tenure, and pension funding, involve political choices that should be up to duly elected officials to decide, not a private organization like a union.

Second, nearly all public employee unions receive a form of taxpayer-funded subsidy in addition to forced union dues payments. A common practice is release time, which allows public employees to perform union business like collective bargaining, political activity, and represent employees in grievance procedures on the taxpayer’s dime.

Third, government unions do spend forced union dues payments on politics, sometimes more than they acknowledge. The Commonwealth Foundation, a free market think tank in Pennsylvania, found that several Pennsylvania labor unions obscure their political spending on financial disclosure forms. For instance, some unions label political spending as “Contributions, Gifts and Grants,” “Representational Activities,” or “Union Administration” (see the Commonwealth Foundation’s database of government union dues funded political activity, here). 

Further, recent research from the Center for Responsive Politics reveals the extent of government unions’ spending on politics. As the Free Beacon reports:

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) spent $55.3 million on “political activities and lobbying” in 2016 compared to the $36.4 million in expenditures related to “representational activities,” such as contract negotiations and grievance managements for its membership, according to its 2016 federal labor filings.

It is time to free thousands of public sector workers from having to pay tribute to a union they may disagree with, and for which they likely never voted to represent them.