Why You May Need to Pay Union Dues, Even if SCOTUS Says You Don’t
By F. Vincent Vernuccio and Chantal Lovell
Government unions and politicians are trying to dodge a Supreme Court decision before it’s even been made, and they’re doing so at the expense of workers.
Union-backed politicians have begun pushing bills intended to get around a potential ruling that protects public employees’ First Amendment rights. Some legislators are so brazen that they started finding ways to sidestep the Supreme Court before it even heard arguments in Janus v. AFSCME.
Threatened by the idea that their time of forcing people to pay them is limited, government unions in blue states have begun lobbying politicians to quickly enact laws that would get around a ruling that puts workers’ rights above union privileges.
The most egregious examples come from New Jersey, where a union wish-list bill advanced out of committee on March 19. The bill combines tactics in legislation bubbling up in several union-friendly states.
Each tactic’s intent is to trap government employees into paying unions against their will. They include: making it harder for public employees to leave and stop paying the union; forcing new employees to sit through a union sales pitch; and restricting what public employers can tell their employees, among other things. The most shameless bill packages limit the public’s ability to reach government employees, while at the same time giving unions more access to these workers.
Many of these ideas can be found in the National Education Association’s “8 essentials to a strong union contract without fair-share fees,” which the union published last year.
Janus centers on the fact that government unions in 22 states can have people fired for not paying them. A child support worker in Illinois, Mark Janus, thinks this is wrong and says it violates his First Amendment rights. In February, his lawyers from the Liberty Justice Center and National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation asked the court to give him and other public employees the freedom to choose whether or not to pay a union. A ruling in his favor would essentially mean all public employees across the country would be free to work.
Washington state is the breeding ground for most legislation attempting to undermine the court. HB2751 passed the state’s legislature in February and would mandate that the state collect dues for government unions, something a majority of Americans think is inappropriate according to recent polling.
If you think dropping your cable or internet service is difficult, try disassociating from a union in New York. There, legislators are considering making it so hard to stop paying a union that public employees are effectively trapped. Like New Jersey’s S2137, New York S5778A would limit the period its members have to opt-out to a short “window” of time that is different for each employee.
Politicians are so worried workers might have a choice in paying unions that they’re scrambling to find ways to keep public employees in the dark about their rights. As in New Jersey, Washington’s SB6082 would prohibit public employers from notifying employees of their right to not pay a union in the event the court rules in workers’ favor. They’re also discussing SB6079, which would make it harder for nonprofits to inform employees of their rights. Connecticut is considering a similar bill.
Meanwhile, Washington, New Jersey and Maryland legislators want to ensure their employees do hear from government unions and are pursuing legislation forcing new hires to sit through union sales pitches. Think timeshare presentations, without the beach and all-inclusive bar.
Vermont legislation seeks to keep workers tied to unions, even if they’ve checked all the boxes and opted out. S.238 would give non-union members no choice but to hire (and pay) a union to represent them if they have a grievance. Instead, states should consider Worker’s Choice, which would free unions and employees form the forced relationship, allowing workers to represent themselves in a dispute.
On the more extreme end of the spectrum, states could completely circumvent the court by agreeing to pay unions directly, likely cutting employee wages or benefits to cover the cost. Hawaii tried this in 2016, a move that would have permanently forced taxpayers to subsidize government unions that engage in political activity and robbed employees of any hope of having a choice at work.
Government unions and the politicians they’ve put in office should respect the legal process, give the court the chance to weigh in, and respect the outcome without pushing legislation that would undermine a ruling they may dislike.
F. Vincent Vernuccio is a senior fellow at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and a senior policy advisor State Policy Network. Chantal Lovell is a director of strategic communications at the State Policy Network.