Pennsylvania public employees are now free to decide how best to spend their hard-earned paychecks. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME held that forcing public workers to pay union fees as a condition of employment goes against First Amendment free speech rights. The majority opinion found that government unions are inherently political and “forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable is always demeaning.”
This means public employees who do not value union representation or disagree with its politics no longer have to pay “agency fees,” or forced union dues. Those forced union dues weren’t cheap. They frequently cost up to 80 percent of full membership fees, around $650 annually.
On July 3, Pennsylvania Office of Administration spokesman Dan Egan told Bloomberg BNA that the state has already stopped deducting agency fees. This impacts, at minimum, tens of thousands of public employees in the Keystone State.
Labor leaders are predictably unhappy with the court decision. Jerry Green, president of United Steelworkers Local 2599, said that “doesn’t sit right with me at all. … They’re going to benefit without having to pay for any collective bargaining.”
Green was referring to the “free-rider” argument. Unions feel that all workers who receive representation should pay for that. What they don’t say is that nonunion members only receive union services because they are forced to. Under Pennsylvania’s Public Employee Relations Act, unions act as an exclusive representative, which means they represent all workers in a bargaining unit — members and nonmembers. After Janus, nonunion members do not have to pay any union fees, but are still forced to work under a union contract and receive union representation. That’s a problem.
A simple public policy fix exists that resolves the union free-rider argument and frees nonunion members from forced union representation. State Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill County, already put forward this solution, House Bill 1623, last year, and he is re-upping efforts now to pass the bill.
Under Knowles’ legislation, government unions would only represent and bargain on behalf of union members, effectively creating members-only unions. Public employees who do not want union representation would be free to forgo union representation and deal directly with their employer or form a competing union.
Members-only unions promote a fundamental value shared by all Americans: freedom of association. No worker should be forced to associate and work under a collective bargaining agreement just because a majority of his or her colleagues voted in favor of unionization. Knowles’ bill makes sure public employees have the right to control their own labor and work conditions.
“This bill empowers those talented public employees who wish to negotiate merit pay,” Knowles said.
Public employees could also arrange more flexible schedules than currently permitted by union contracts. Or perhaps younger individuals may seek to negotiate higher pay now in exchange for less generous retirement benefits later.
Giving workers the choice on how they represent themselves in the workplace is the right thing to do and upholds the American value of freedom of association. And as Knowles puts it, “I see no logical reason why public employees or union bosses could or would object to this proposal.”
Members-only unions are a win-win for everyone.