The Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of plaintiff Mark Janus in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, Country, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. At its core, this case is about restoring government workers’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association. To better understand the case and why Americans should care about the outcome, here are some important things to know:
To keep their jobs, should government employees in America be forced to fund political agendas they disagree with?
That was the question on the table for the US Supreme Court. Public-sector unionsʼ core activity—representing workers in collective bargaining—is inherently political. When a union bargains with the government, it tells the government how much it should spend on government employee salaries, pensions, and benefits in addition to how it should run its programs. When anyone else does that, everyone recognizes it as political speech, and we call it lobbying. So when a worker is forced to give money to a government union to pay for collective bargaining, he or she is being made to pay for someone political speech—something the First Amendment virtually never allows. That means the only way to protect workersʼ First Amendment rights is to allow them to choose whether to pay union fees at all.
Mark Janus is an Illinois resident, father, employee of the state, and active participant in his community. As a child support specialist who works for Health Care & Family Services, Mark, like almost all Illinois government employees, has to pay mandatory AFSCME union fees. Mark is not anti-union, but he believes he should be able to keep his job and serve his community without being forced to support politics that oppose his own values.
He’s not alone. In 22 states, workers could not take a government job without being forced to pay union fees. For those who are happy with the services provided by the union and fully support the political agenda being advanced, this is not a problem. But those who disagree were left feeling that they are being used or that they had no voice in their workplace. Even if these government workers were able to opt out of membership, they could still be forced to give the union part of their paycheck each month just to keep their jobs. To avoid paying dues altogether, their only option was to find another job or leave their profession entirely.
No one should be pressured or forced to pay union fees as a condition of working in public service. The ruling in favor of Mark Janus restored government workers’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association so that they could keep their jobs without having to pay for services they didn’t want or political agendas they disagree with.
Mandatory union agency fees can get expensive. In Chicago, fees can be more than $1,000 a year. That’s a lot to spend, especially when a union that is not representing your interests or political viewpoint.
Mark Janus was forced to pay the union $45 per month out of his paycheck. That amounts to more than $10,000 over his 20-year career.
The Supreme Court didn’t decide the existence of government unions. They considered whether unions can force government workers to pay dues in order to keep their jobs—even if those workers have opted out of their union. Employees will still have access to union representation and membership, hopefully on a voluntary basis. Government unions will still be able to bargain with government entities over things like compensation, benefits, and work conditions. And private-sector unions won’t be affected by the case outcome at all.
A frequent objection to ending forced fees is that all government employees benefit from union representation. By not paying dues, those members would become “free-riders” who get to take advantage of benefits that other members are paying for.
In many cases, though, those “benefits” are positions that government workers vehemently disagree with and don’t want to support financially. Even with a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Mark Janus, unions will be able to lobby only for dues-paying members if they don’t want to represent all government workers exclusively.
It’s worth mentioning that, in some ways, unions themselves are currently free-riding, exacting dues from individuals who don’t want their services and whose opinions and interests are not reflected by the union.
Want to learn more about Mark Janus and the case? Check out these resources: