Managing Editor, Freedom Foundation
With the U.S. Supreme Court less than a month away from considering oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, it’s time to brace for the landslide of union misinformation certain to begin cascading down the mountains of truth any day now.
The plaintiffs in Janus argue mandatory union participation is unconstitutional because it abridges their First Amendment rights of free speech and free association to have any money at all– including dues, agency fees, representation fees, etc. — deducted from their paychecks to support the activities of a private, nakedly political machine whose ideals they may loathe.
The unions, however, recognize the difference between mandatory and voluntary tribute amounts to billions of dollars nationwide, and a ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor could wreak havoc for labor giants like the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the National Education Association (NEA) and the Teamsters — to say nothing of the exclusively liberal candidates and causes they underwrite with someone else’s money.
Consequently, it’s safe to assume they won’t go down without a fight and, as the old saying goes, the first casualty in any conflict is the truth. Let’s consider, then, some of the well-worn canards unions and the beneficiaries of their generosity are certain to break out of mothballs in hopes of averting the impending crisis.
1. Unions do good things for workers and deserve everyone’s support. This isn’t so much a lie as it is a matter of opinion. Certainly there are many rank-and-file union members who happily embrace the current model. To them, the union seems to provide a service whose value exceeds that of his or her monthly dues.
The catch is, what works for one person’s situation doesn’t necessarily work for all.
What labor’s spinmeisters never get around to explaining, of course, is that nothing in Janus or right-to-work would compel workers to leave their union or prevent new recruits from joining up. It would simply give every worker a say in the matter rather than forcing them to accept a one-size-fits-all solution tailored first and foremost to fit the union.
2. It’s unfair for workers who don’t financially support the union to benefit from the contract it negotiates. Commonly referred to as the “free rider” argument, this line of reasoning rests on the false assumption that non-union workers are the ones demanding the union assume responsibility for all the employees in a given workplace – even those who decline membership.
This so-called “union security clause,” however, was neither sought nor agreed to by the non-represented workers. In fact, unions happily accept the “burden” of representing all the workers in return for the monopoly power that comes with being designated the group’s exclusive bargaining agent.
3. Workers can already opt out of union membership. Numerous court cases, dating back to Abood v. Detroit Board of Education in 1977, have recognized it violates the constitutional rights of workers to have their wages confiscated to pay for political candidates and causes they don’t support. But until now, disgruntled employees could only opt out of paying that portion of their dues the union spends directly on politics – an amount determined, paradoxically, by the union.
But they could still be ordered to pay an “agency fee” to compensate the union for its expenses associated with collective bargaining.
What Janus recognizes is that, for a union representing government employees, there is no distinction between political expenditures and the “non-political” costs of collective bargaining.
Every dollar gained or lost in contract negotiations impacts either a community’s tax rate or the level of service it provides. Hence, every action a public-sector union takes, by definition, has political ramifications, and workers should be entitled to opt out of all of them.
4. The real purpose of Janus and right-to-work is to deprive the left of a major funding source and hand conservatives a huge advantage. In fact, the truth is just the opposite. Under the current arrangement, it’s the liberal candidates and causes that have a huge and unfair advantage.
Conservatives are forced to fund their campaigns using money donated by only those who willingly give it. Meanwhile, public-sector unions have become the single largest donor to the liberal agenda, and they do so using the almost-bottomless well of someone else’s money.
Janus wouldn’t confer an advantage on either side; it would simply force both to play by the same rules.
5. Janus and the right-to-work movement are being funded by conservative billionaires who want to destroy the middle class and allow employers to suppress corporate wages. Actually, Janus and right-to-work movement are concerned with government jobs, not corporations, and the evil employers in question are overtaxed Americans being told they have an obligation to pay even more to further inflate the salaries of public servants who already earn more than they do.
Right-to-work, which Janus would ensure for the entire country, boils down to nothing more than freedom of choice. If enough workers, once given a real choice, value what the union provides, Janus won’t change anything.
And if not, why was it worth subsidizing in the first place?
In either case, no one will have killed government employee unions. At worst, they’ll simply be unhooked from the government-sanctioned machinery that’s kept them alive long past the point of decency.
At worst, the death of government employee unions and their corrupting influence over the American political landscape will be self-inflicted.
And long overdue.
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