Illinois state worker case could bring Right to Work to public sector workers in all 50 states
The public employees in Janus v. AFSCME have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the state of Illinois from forcing workers to pay union fees as a condition of government employment.
Imagine having to pay a middleman a fee just to keep your job. You go to work each week, knowing that if you don’t pay, you will lose your job. You want to talk to your boss about switching duties or getting a raise? You must first go through the middleman – whom you didn’t ask for or choose.
It sounds like extortion, but this is the reality for public employees in 22 states.
Twenty-eight states have Right-to-Work laws, which means government workers can choose for themselves whether to financially support a union. But in the 22 other states, workers can be forced to pay union fees as a condition of employment. They may have no choice – pay the union, or find a job elsewhere. Those fees violate workers’ rights and fill union coffers.
But this sort of legal extortion could come to an end for public sector workers during the next U.S. Supreme Court session.
On June 6 the court was asked to hear an appeal in Janus v. AFSCME, a landmark case out of the union stronghold of Illinois. The case challenges as unconstitutional laws that allow forced union fees.
And it has the potential to bring Right to Work to public sector workers in all 50 states.
Currently, the 28 states with Right-to-Work laws, including Missouri and Kentucky, have recognized workers’ important fundamental rights: namely, freedom of speech and freedom of association. A person should not be forced to pay a union just to keep his or her job.
Janus picks up where a previous case left off. Many observers believed the Supreme Court was set to overturn mandatory union fees in the 2016 case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. But that case ended in a 4-4 vote after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. That meant the forced fee status quo could persist.
That 4-4 split vote bodes well for the plaintiff in the Janus case. The Supreme Court grants less than 1 percent of petitions for a writ of certiorari (i.e., requests for the court to hear an appeal from a lower court) filed each year, but it only takes four justices to determine that a case should be heard.
If the court accepts the case, it is believed Justice Neil Gorsuch may supply the important fifth vote that puts an end to forced union fees for government employees.
The majority of Americans already support Right to Work and think forced union fees are wrong. In a 2014 Gallup poll, 71 percent of Americans polled stated they would vote for a Right-to-Work law, with just 22 percent stating they would vote against. The poll also found that 65 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Republicans would vote for a Right-to-Work law.
Early union leaders cautioned against the formation of government worker unions. And President Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned that collective bargaining “cannot be transplanted into the public service.” But those early warnings went unheeded, and for decades public sector workers have been forced to pay money to unions just because they dedicated their lives to being teachers, social workers or local government employees.
The Janus case could be the vehicle to bring freedom to public sector workers across the U.S., putting an end to unions’ extortion of government employees.