On the morning of June 27, 2018—amid the usual hustle and bustle in Washington, DC—the US Supreme Court issued a ruling that would change the American workplace forever. In Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council (AFSCME), the Supreme Court said that public employees do not have to pay union dues as a condition of employment.
The Court ruled that taking union dues from nonconsenting public sector employees violates the First Amendment. This momentous decision impacted five million public employees in 22 states.
To understand why the Janus decision is so important, it’s helpful to review how government unions worked before this historic case. In order to work for the government, public employees had to join a union and pay union dues. For some workers, this was not a big deal. They liked the services and benefits their union provided and were happy to contribute their hard-earned dollars towards membership dues. But for thousands of other workers, this was not the case. They did not feel like their union was representing their interests. Public sector unionsʼ core activity—representing workers in collective bargaining—is inherently political. And some government workers did not agree with the political activities their union was engaging in. These workers did not feel their union’s activities aligned with their own values but didn’t have options to rescind their membership. They were forced to continue paying dues and give the union part of their paycheck each month.
Although some government unions had opt-out windows, or periods of time when a government worker could opt out of union membership, these windows were often obscure and arbitrary. What’s more, sometimes unions would continue to deduct member dues, even though a worker signaled his intent to opt out.
A question lingered in government workplaces across the nation: Can unions can force government workers to pay dues in order to keep their jobs—even if those workers have opted out of their union? The Janus ruling made it clear: Workers had a voice and a choice when it came to union membership.
But Janus was just the beginning. The next step was securing these rights for public employees and enforcing the Janus decision across the states. Although the US Supreme Court set the precedent, the laws don’t change overnight. Affected workers had to be notified of their Janus rights—and if they chose to do so—exercise their right to opt out of paying agency fees.
But how would government workers hear about their restored First Amendment rights? That’s where this Network comes in. In the year leading up to the decision, state policy organizations across the country prepared for this outcome and began educating workers of their new rights within moments of the ruling.
In the three years since the historic Janus decision, this Network has worked with lawmakers, attorneys general, and governors to pass innovative legislation enforcing the Janus decision and shoring up workplace freedom rights in their states. And when unions have refused to honor workers freedoms, they’ve stood by them in court.
Early on in their campaign to notify workers of their rights, Network groups realized that the Supreme Court’s decision went beyond just eliminating agency fees. Janus requires public employees to opt into dues collection in the first place. The Alaska Policy Forum, with help from the Mackinac Center and other Network groups, encouraged Alaska take a huge step towards restoring public employees’ First Amendment rights. In 2019, the Alaska Governor issued an administrative order directing the Department of Administration to begin the creation of an opt-in system for union membership, which would allow the state to obtain freely given consent or dissent from all state employees for paycheck deduction of union membership dues. Texas and Indiana followed.
In October 2020, the Michigan Civil Service Commission put rules in place that allow Michigan workers to opt out of union membership. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy pointed out that approximately 13 percent, or 4,346 of nearly 34,000 employees, chose not to reauthorize dues payments to their unions.
Indiana became the first state to take legislative action to fully implement Janus v. AFSCME. In April 2021, the Indiana Governor signed a bill that requires government unions to obtain direct consent from Indiana teachers before dues can be deducted from their paychecks. The new legislation also allows a teacher to leave a union and stop paying dues at any time, putting an end to schemes designed to trap teachers in a union. The Mackinac Center promoted the bill, testified in committee, and advised the bill’s sponsors.
Mackinac is building on its achievements in Alaska, Michigan, Indiana, and Texas to pass preemptive legislation and policies ensuring every worker is notified of their union membership rights. Additionally, the Beacon Center of Tennessee is entering the third and final year of its campaign to enshrine right-to-work in the state constitution.
For each Network group, litigation is a key component of ensuring the Janus decision is respected and that workers truly have freedom in the workplace. In fact, Network think tanks and aligned litigation centers are representing dozens of workers in several states.
The Buckeye Institute successfully defended several Ohio public employees after unions continued to take money from their paychecks even though they had officially ended their membership in the union. The Illinois Policy Institute is working to help workers like Benny opt out, and in his case, disband the union that wasn’t serving the public works employees in his small town. And the Freedom Foundation, after expanding into four states, has helped numerous workers exercise their First Amendment right to leave their union.
On the three-year anniversary of the Janus v. AFSCME decision, it’s important to reflect on this historic milestone and the opportunity it presented to the millions of government workers nationwide. They finally have a choice and a voice at work, and this Network is continuing to empower them with the information they need to make their own decision regarding union membership.
As state organizations that have tapped into their local communities and focused on meaningful ways to improve the lives of Americans, this Network is uniquely positioned to help even more workers and advance their freedoms throughout the country.