The United States Supreme Court has been busy this week. I have only been focused on the Janus Case. The justices ruled 5-4 to prohibit unions from collecting fees in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31. The justices also ruled that workers must affirmatively opt into the union before fees can be taken out of their paychecks.
It will effectively break the cycle where government unions can collect compulsory fees from government workers and then use it to help elect pro-union politicians to achieve and maintain political power — who then empower and enrich the government employee unions. Think about this for a minute, the unions were arguing in this case: “that government has a duty to financially prop up a private enterprise.” “In what universe?” the Supreme Court Justices must have thought. The legal rationale was questionable at best.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote in the majority opinion and addressed that directly: “It is hard to estimate how many billions of dollars have been taken from nonmembers and transferred to public-sector unions in violation of the First Amendment. Those unconstitutional exactions cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.” Justice Alito then added: “We conclude that this arrangement violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”
The opinion added: “The First Amendment is violated when money is taken from nonconsenting employees for a public-sector union; employees must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them. Accordingly, neither an agency fee nor any other form of payment to a public-sector union may be deducted from an employee, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”
The Tennessee branch of the National Education Association is already saying the ruling will not impact them. They have already lost almost 35% of their members in the last five years according to the Education Intelligence Agency. However, the Janus ruling will have an indirect impact, as the unions will have fewer resources, and will undoubtedly be focused (in the short-term) on simply keeping the members they have. The NEA has projected a loss of some 307,000 members over two years if the Janus decision went against public-employee unions, with an expected $50 million two-year budget cut, or 13 percent. Today’s decision will ultimately reduce the political activity of public sector unions.
Referenced by the Education Intelligence Agency, former Tennessee Education Association employee and Uniserv Coordinator Chris Brooks wrote about the unions: “Many state associations are run by their staffs. Rarely do they engage in meaningful fights at the school or district level. Annual lobby days mobilize a tiny fraction of members. Teachers and school support staff feel only loosely connected to the union.” Brooks’s former union bosses cannot be happy with his comments. However, it proves that educators need more effective voices and other organizations to speak up for their interests.
“The unions will call this tortious interference with their business expectancies. Disinterested people will call it an affirmation of individuals’ constitutional rights” according to Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist George Will. No American worker should be forced to become or remain a union member. People should be free to join, or not join any organization or union they want, without losing their job or be forced to pay for political agendas with which they disagree based on political or ideological purposes.
The Janus Decision will not create drastic structural changes to unions. It will simply make them more accountable to their own members. And in the case of teacher unions, this greater accountability should focus on making the quality of education front and center, help public education rebuild support from the public for issues like raising teacher pay and school funding, and work for the common good of all students and educators. There is never a wrong time to do the right thing. The Supreme Court Decision in the Janus Case was the right thing.
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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.