June marks the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which finally recognized that public employees have a First Amendment right to refuse to financially support a government union as a job requirement.
Unfortunately, rather than simply honoring the ruling and allowing government employees to exercise their free will, unions across the country have spent the past two years working harder to keep their members in the dark about their rights or straight-up lying in order to continue pilfering other peoples’ money.
Not even the COVID-19 pandemic has changed that.
It states, “A 2018 U.S Supreme Court decision, funded by anti-union millionaire CEOs, made it much more difficult for all public-sector workers to stand together in a union on the job.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Janus did nothing to make it more difficult to organize or “stand together.” It simply made it possible for employees to stand apart.
Union bosses claim, as the title of this opinion piece asserts, that “(U)nions are a voice for workers.”
What that claim ignores is that not everyone WANTS labor leaders to speak for them.
At the Freedom Foundation (they love to call us the “so-called Freedom Foundation”), we deal with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of public employees every day who want to learn more about the rights Janus affirmed.
Prior to the SCOTUS decision, public employees had limited options. They could join their designated union and pay up to $1,200 every year for membership, decide to become a “fee-payer” and only reward the union for the representational portion of its dues (usually between 70 to 90 percent of full dues), or become a religious objector and donate their union dues to a union-approved charity.
You’ll notice, however, that none of these options allows the employee to keep their money if they don’t want to be a union member.
This is what Janus changed. Public employees in all 50 states now can keep their entire paycheck, for any reason, whenever they want.
That’s what terrifies unions. They understand that many — perhaps most — of their members don’t believe the service they’re receiving is worth what they’re paying in dues. And like other dissatisfied customers in a free market, they’re going to withhold their business.
Unions know they have a lackluster product. And unless clients are forced to buy it, they won’t.
Imagine for a moment a public employee union as a gym. Every month you pay a membership fee for the cost of maintaining the equipment, paying the employees, and getting access to equipment you could never afford on your own. Now imagine that one day you head to the gym for a workout and it’s in complete disrepair.
All of its machines are broken, it smells terrible and you get the feeling they’re using your money to pay for exorbitant trips to resorts and to support political candidates and causes that make your skin crawl.
Would you want your money back?
You bet you would. And, as it turns out, more than 75,000 public employees across the nation do, too.
As much as unions want to blame millionaires, CEOs, and the Koch brothers, they are their own worst enemy. By attempting to force public employees to pay union dues against their wishes, they’ve done a better job destroying themselves than anyone else could.
In his article, Adam Wood goes on to claim that unions — and only unions — are fighting for the rights of their dues-payers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He states a few examples, such as making sure firefighters and paramedics infected with coronavirus on the job get the care they need and making sure that essential workers who contract COVID-19 are eligible for workers’ compensation. These nondescript benefits, which basically everyone agrees with, are hardly examples of unions actually fighting for their members.
Nobody likes the idea of our first responders getting sub-par treatment.
What he neglects to mention is that the union he belongs to, and many others across California, have hatched schemes to compel these brave heroes to continue paying to support a union they no longer believe provides a service worth paying for.
So-called dues authorization forms, widely used by unions in liberal states like California, lock public employees into years of paying dues with no way out, except for a short 10- to 30-day window once every few years.
Another California union attempted to lock lifeguards in Orange County into paying dues for four years by inserting a clause into their collective bargaining agreement, which hadn’t even been made publicly available.
What these unions don’t want to admit is that the Freedom Foundation has a reputation of being the stalwart defender of public employees’ rights. We have filed lawsuitafter lawsuit challenging unions and keeping them accountable to their members.
In March, we called on legislators, governors, and union leaders across the country to allow for a three-month moratorium on union dues in order to give back to those who need the extra cash during this pandemic.
We estimated that, in just the five states where we’re active, public employees could give their local economy a nearly half-billion-dollars.
We took some heat for that suggestion on this very website, but the suggestion had several purposes.
First, we recognize it’s easy not to feel like “We’re all in this together” when government bureaucrats continue to collect generous wages (that we pay for) even as 40 million people have lost their paychecks and don’t know how to make rent.
But public employees are also bus drivers, school cafeteria employees, and construction workers who are very likely part of a newly single-income household.
Second, we wanted to point out the fact that for all their “voice of the people” preening, government unions haven’t been asked to make any of the same sacrifices the rest of us have. Many of those CEOs union bosses love to rail about have taken pay cuts or forgone salaries altogether so their employees don’t have to.
Unions have millions in the bank but won’t volunteer to let their members keep more money in their paychecks for even a short time to help make up the difference for a lost income in the household.
Third, we wanted to challenge governors across the country who are seizing authoritarian powers to take away our rights to then use their newfound “powers” to help people cope with these economic times. We knew they wouldn’t suspend government union dues deductions because they depend on those dollars themselves.
Which is why we believe every dollar not going to a government union, and returned to the pockets of public employees, is something to celebrate.
Sam Coleman is the California outreach coordinator for the Freedom Foundation, a free-market organization committed to helping free public sector employees from union tyranny.