The two red-letter days on labor union calendars are May Day and Labor Day. After today, though, February 26 might appear as a black-letter day, marking the downfall of once-mighty organized labor.
The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments today in Janus vs. AFSCME. The plaintiff is Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee who sued the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, because, according to the Court petition, he felt he is being forced to pay agency fees to the union “against his will.”
In a 2016 Chicago Tribune commentary, Janus laid out his complaint.
“For years,” he wrote, his union “supported candidates who put Illinois into its current budget and pension crisis. Government unions have pushed for government spending that made the state’s fiscal situation worse.”
Last week, he told a Tribune reporter that “the union’s fight is not my fight.” Yet the union has demanded that he pay up, even though he believes it doesn’t act in his — or the state’s — best interest. His dues are a condition of employment. Unions have kept up this practice for more than four decades, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s friendly 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education ruling. It institutionalized unions’ power to bleed fees from nonunion public-sector employees to fund union activities related to “collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment purposes.”
The Janus lawsuit is, to put it mildly, a landmark case. The New York Times has breathlessly headlined that the legal “Showdown Could Shrink Unions’ Power,” while the Huffington Post shrieked that it is “The Biggest Threat To Organized Labor In Years.” Bloomberg says the ruling “Could Devastate Unions.”
Unions are deeply fearful that the Court will rule in Janus’ favor. The California Teachers Association is in a panic because such a decision “would make the entire public sector ‘right-to-work’ in one fell swoop.” Yvonne Walker, president of Service Employees International Local 1000, which represents more state government workers than any other union, has said that “everything is at stake.” Writing in the Chico News & Review, Marshall Elliott, an employee at Chico State who is president of the local chapter of the California State University Employee Union, claims that the Janus lawsuit “is an attack on all workers.”
All? Mark Janus would disagree. So would Rebecca Friedrichs, a Buena Park teacher who challenged the California Teachers Association over union dues. She didn’t win, but her case fueled the fight for workers who don’t wish to be forced to finance political and social agendas they don’t agree with.
It would be a good bet in Las Vegas that many more workers will disagree, because they simply would rather keep their money in their own pockets. The prospect has unions quaking. No longer will they be able to use easy money to fund political campaigns against candidates who actually stand up for taxpayers and worker freedom.
No longer will union bosses have brimming coffers filled with dollars others sweated to earn. No longer will they have the financial and political clout to continue to, in the words of the Manhattan Institute’s Daniel DiSalvo, drive up the public employees’ wages and benefits that have “contributed to California’s massive debt and unfunded liabilities, all of which has helped to make the Golden State one of the most expensive in the union.”
If unions are devastated by the Janus ruling, it simply won’t be the bad news that the sympathetic media have declared it to be. For many, it will be good news that will trigger a swell of celebrations among working families.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.