State Policy Network
Six Years Later: The Historic Impact of the Janus Decision

Six years ago, on July 27, 2018, the United States Supreme Court ruled that public employees do not have to pay or join a union as a condition of employment. The case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) sparked a wave of worker freedom victories across the country, giving hundreds of thousands of public workers a voice and the ability to choose how to spend their hard-earned paycheck. 

The Janus Decision 

Prior to the 2018 Janus decision, public employees were required to join and pay membership dues to their union as a condition of employment. Many unions either sent this money to their national affiliate or spent it on political activities such as the endorsement of ideas or candidates. While many public employees were happy to make this tradeoff, not everyone felt that the union best represented them—or deserved a cut of their earnings. 

Enter Mark Janus, a child support specialist from Illinois. Like others across the nation, Mark’s union financially supported political causes and activities that did not align with his beliefs. However, due to the union’s policy, Mark was not able to leave the union without also losing his job. 

With the help of the Liberty Justice Center, Mark filed a lawsuit that eventually made its way up to the highest court in the nation. The United States Supreme Court ruled in Mark’s favor in Janus v. AFSCME, deciding that compelling public employees to pay union dues violated their First Amendment right to free speech. Now, thanks to Mark’s courage, millions of public sector employees have a voice and a choice when it comes to union membership. 

Informing Workers of their Rights 

While the Supreme Court decision gave workers the right to leave their union, this was only the first step. Much work would need to be done to both inform the five million workers of their right as well as empower them to exercise it. 

SPN’s 50-state Network rose to answer the call. Several organizations, Americans for Fair Treatment, The Buckeye Institute, Commonwealth Foundation, Empire Center, Freedom Foundation, Liberty Justice Center, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and many more launched information campaigns seeking to educate public workers. 

These education campaigns continue six years later. Last summer, the Freedom Foundation hosted the first-of-its-kind Teacher Freedom Summit aimed at educating the nation’s educators on their rights following the Janus decision, helping them learn alternative options to union membership and more. Many teachers are unaware of their rights should they choose to leave the union, while many others are unaware of their right to leave at all. 

The Network’s efforts over the years have empowered workers to make the choice that best fits their needs—with many deciding to leave their union. According to estimates from the Mackinac Center, more than 1.3 million workers have chosen to leave their union since the Janus decision in 2018. 

Defending Workers in Court 

Even though the Supreme Court definitively ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that public sector workers have the right to opt-out, much of the implementation of that ruling has been left open for judicial interpretation. 

Several members of SPN’s Network, such as the Liberty Justice Center, The Buckeye Institute, Freedom Foundation, and the Mackinac Center, to name a few, have launched litigation campaigns seeking to clarify the Janus ruling and defend workers from unjust interpretations. 

In February, the Liberty Justice Center filed Cogar v. Ohio Association of Public School Employees, a legal case looking to defend Ohio school district employee Denise Cogar’s First Amendment rights under the Janus decision. Denise had left her union in 2022, only to be told four months later that the union would continue to deduct dues from her paycheck because Denise had not made her request to leave during the union’s annual “opt-out window”. Frustrated, but not swayed, Denise waited months for the window to come back around and mailed in her union resignation. According to her union, they received her request one day before the window opened, making the request ineligible. They did not tell Denise this until after the window had closed. The Liberty Justice Center’s lawsuit argued that this was a clear violation of her rights, and the Ohio Association of Public School Employees agreed to stop withdrawing dues shortly after. 

Another example is Littlejohn v. AFSCME, launched by The Buckeye Institute in December of 2023 on behalf of Necole Littlejohn. Necole is a hospital employee who opted out of her union in June 2022. Despite no longer being a member, her former union continued to deduct membership dues from her paycheck. The lawsuit is still being reviewed and will answer questions like: Can a union continue to collect dues from people who have left the union, and can that union place limitations on a person’s ability to leave?  

Strengthening Janus Through Legislation 

In the years since the Janus decision, several states have enacted legislation building on Janus to give workers additional rights in the workplace when it comes to their union. 

Many employees face intense pressure to join a union that hinders their ability to opt out of union membership if they choose to do so. A new worker freedom policy has begun to make its way across the country, championed by the Mackinac Center’s Workers for Opportunity project. Colloquially called “secret ballot” the reform allows workers to vote in a private setting when deciding whether or not they would like to form a union. Already adopted in three states, this reform stands in stark contrast to the easily manipulated “card check” system where workers publicly sign authorization forms called “cards” stating they would like to be represented. 

The Mackinac Center worked closely with the Beacon Center of Tennessee in 2023 to produce first-of-its-kind legislation in the Volunteer State that guarantees any auto manufacturers that receive state subsidies must also guarantee a secret ballot unionization election. In 2024, the Mackinac Center worked closely with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and Alabama Policy Institute to pass similar reforms in Georgia and Alabama respectively. 

Florida has also seen several reforms for worker freedom since the Janus decision that increase union transparency and accountability to members. In 2023 Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law ending automatic payroll deduction for union dues, and increasing the threshold needed to trigger a union recertification election. The bill, driven by organizations including The James Madison Institute, Freedom Foundation, and Mackinac Center for Public Policy, has triggered recertification elections in some of the state’s biggest school districts. Orange County, Palm Beach County, and Martin County teachers unions will all face recertification elections in the fall. 

Recertification elections allow workers to have a direct say in whether they want to continue being represented by their union. These elections are important as they make the union directly accountable to workers.  

What’s Next? 

The Network has aided over a million workers in exercising their right to choose whether or not they want to join a union, but there are still many more opportunities to give a voice to the voiceless. Working together, state think tanks will continue to advance worker freedom across the country, until all workers are truly free to opt in or out of union membership. 

Organization: State Policy Network