Government unions cry foul over Janus, but ignore solution to ‘free rider’ claims

Government unions cry foul over Janus, but ignore solution to ‘free rider’ claims

A bill freeing government unions from representing nonmember workers has been filed multiple times in recent years. But rather than rally around it, government unions stand in the way.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 27 decision in Janus v AFSCME declared that forced union fees violate the First Amendment rights of government workers.

But government unions aren’t happy with workers’ newly restored freedoms.

Because of laws that Illinois government unions fought for in the 1980s, unions are still required to collectively bargain on behalf of government workers who refuse to pay them, creating what some union officials call “free riders.”

One idea that has been floated to address this self-imposed problem is charging nonmembers for union services, such as grievances. But there is an easier and more equitable solution already on the table in Springfield. And it’s unions themselves that stand in the way.

Worker’s choice

House Bill 673 would implement what’s called “worker’s choice” in Illinois. Worker’s choice provides workers with two options: 1) become a member and accept all of the applicable union requirements, including dues, or 2) opt out of union representation altogether.

This bill would take the Janus ruling to its next logical step. Government workers not only would be free to decide whether to pay fees to a union, but also free to determine whether they want that union to represent them at all. Government unions, in turn, would be completely off the hook. They would expend no time or resources on behalf of nonmembers.

But the bill is opposed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the Chicago Laborers’ District Council and the Laborers’ International Union – Midwest Region.

That opposition is unfounded. Worker’s choice would not upset the relationship a union has with a public employer. The union would continue to bargain and negotiate for all member employees. Nothing would change in terms of the union’s negotiations with the public employer on behalf of its members. Its members would continue to have all rights guaranteed to them under union contracts.

Opposing worker’s choice also defies what workers want. According to a 2017 nationwide survey, 77 percent of union members agree that employees who do not pay dues should represent themselves in negotiations.

That’s why it’s encouraging that one Illinois union – International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 – is fighting for worker’s choice in the courts. In a federal lawsuit, Local 150 is claiming that if nonmembers don’t have to pay fees to the union, then the union shouldn’t be forced to represent them.

If anything, other unions’ opposition to worker’s choice demonstrates their “free rider” claims are disingenuous. If Illinois’ government unions truly want to eliminate any alleged “free rider” issues they foresee, the easy solution is HB 673.

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