By Natalia Castro
The Supreme Court is just days away from deciding a case that will alter the status of state and local public sector unions in the United States.
Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (Janus)will determine an employee’s ability to opt out of state and local union dues. Mark Janus challenged his union for forcing him to pay a fine for refusing membership. Employees can already opt out of federal union dues. Thus, the Janus decision could effectively remove mandated union dues in the public sector at the state and local level entirely.
Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun Times explains, Neil Gorsuch’s position on the Supreme Court leaves many expecting a 5-4 decision along partisan lines in favor of Janus, as it would be surprising for a constitutionalist jurist to back organized labor. A strong defense of the First Amendment dictates an employee should have the right to work for a government agency without union protection if the employee chooses and not be forced to pay a fine or any other penalty.
Wrote Sweet of Gorsuch, “He will shock Supreme Court observers if he backs organized labor in this case.”
A decision in favor of Janus will deeply harm union revenues. When the state of Wisconsin passed Right to Work legislation prohibiting unions from requiring all workers pay union dues, depending on the union, dues revenue decreased anywhere from 25 percent to 50 percent depending on the union. This resulted in $12 million in lost revenue in the three years following implementation, according to reports from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
When given the option, employees did not see membership as worth the expense, so it is no surprise unions are starting to fear the results of this Supreme Court case.
The Janus decision will force public employee unions to do exactly that.
As the decision nears, it is not only unions who must be preparing for the fallout. Currently, 6 million state and local employees are paying members of a public employee union. Once the Janus decision takes effect, whatever it is, employees will need clarity regarding the requirements for their union membership.
Although the case does not affect federal workers — they can already opt out of paying union dues or leave the federal employees union— the Trump administration can also take the opportunity to remind them of their rights, with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) getting ahead of this issue.
OPM can effectively use the Supreme Court case to disempower labor unions by issuing a clarifying notification to the 972,000 federal employees who are union members regarding their right to opt out of federal union dues. OPM has the unique ability to inform individual workers of the cost of their dues and provide them with the opt out form.
While the Janus decision might have a large impact on the future of union membership at the state and local level, OPM should remind federal workers nowabout their right to choose whether to pay public employee union dues by issuing these clarifying notices to remind workers that they already have Janus rights.
As Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”
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Natalia Castro is a contributing editor at Americans for Limited Government.