Public employee unions are rubbing a purple bruise, inflicted by the U.S. Supreme Court when it ruled in Janus vs. AFSCME that government workers don’t have to pay unions to keep their jobs. But the unions and their partners in Sacramento aren’t going to let a little Supreme Court decision get in the way of a cushy arrangement they’ve enjoyed for decades. They’ve been trying to scheme a way around it for some time.
By a 5-4 margin, the court said that government employees should not be required to surrender “agency fees” to a union as a condition of employment. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said, “the compelled subsidization of private speech,” which was the plaintiff’s objection to agency fees, “seriously impinges on First Amendment rights” and “cannot be casually allowed.”
Agency fees are payments made by non-members to cover the benefits non-union employees receive from unions in contract negotiations and other employee representation. The fees are the full union dues paid by members less the portion used for political activities. Agency fees typically are nearly identical to full dues since unions, not third parties, determine agency fee rates.
Long before the Janus ruling was announced, California lawmakers, many of whom have been widely criticized as being wholly owned by the public employee unions, were busy introducing bills that are intended to allow unions make an end run around the court.
One, Senate Bill 1085, would force public employers to allow union workers to take time off from their jobs “without loss of compensation or other benefits” to recruit and retain members. Two others, Assembly Bills 1937 and 2049, would make the process of opting out of agency fees an arduous and time-consuming bureaucratic process.
Finally, there’s Assembly Bill 2970. It requires “that the date, time, and place of the orientation be confidential and not be shared with anyone other than employees, the exclusive representative,” which is, of course, a public employee union, “or a vendor that is contracted to provide a service for purposes of the orientation.” The aim is to lock out pro-worker groups that want to provide new hires with information the union would rather they be ignorant of.
But the unions and their political allies were thinking ahead even prior to the current legislative session. Last year, the Legislature passed, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed, Senate Bill 285. It bars public employers from taking any actions that could “deter or discourage public employees from becoming or remaining members of an employee organization.”
The same Legislature and governor also enacted last year Assembly Bill 119, which requires public employers to inform unions of the time and place of all new-employee orientations, and to provide them access to the meetings.
Under AB 119, public employers are also compelled to hand over to unions all new-employee contact information, including names; home and job addresses; home, cell, and work telephone numbers; and personal email addresses. They must provide, as well, new hires’ job titles and departments.
What the unions wanted, and what they are getting with AB 119, is a captive audience. Under the protection of the state, Big Labor reps have an exclusive platform from which they can influence, manipulate, and, if necessary, bully new workers. The National Institute for Labor Relations Research called it, “the most radical attempt yet to intimidate civil servants into continuing to bankroll unwanted unions even when they have a right to cut off all their dues and fees.”
AB 119 is a de facto companion bill to AB 2970. The former forces new hires to listen to the union pitch while the latter seeks to withhold any alternative information they might be presented with.
The California Teachers Association expects to lose 23,000 of its 325,000 members (and $20 million from its budget) due to the ruling. Though Big Labor bosses and activists have always said unionization is good for employees, the fact that so many CTA members will likely walk away shows there is a significant core of teachers who consider themselves captives, rather than allies, of the union cause. It’s the same dissatisfaction that emboldened California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs to challenge compulsory union dues.
Her case was deadlocked 4-4 two years ago in a U.S. Supreme Court lacking the recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia. So, she did not get the outcome she was looking for. But for Friedrichs, Mark Janus, and the tens of thousands of others who want to be freed from union shackles, June 27 is a date to be remembered. It was the day they received their emancipation.