Of the three cases I’ve commented on this week this is the one that gives me the most hope to write about. It represents the correction of what I consider to be a great wrong. It overturns a previous court ruling that allowed a wrong to take place.
Unions exist to represent their members. Much of what they do is negotiate wages. If you have a company of 1000 workers with 500 union members the other 500 non-members still get the raise in pay negotiated by the union. The unions argued that those people were benefiting from their work and the money spent by members and not paying their “fair share”. They were known as “free riders” because, the unions argued, they were getting a free ride on the back of union members. The unions sued to force those other employees to pay up. They didn’t have to join the union, because that was political and the court decided that would be forcing speech and violating their 1st Amendment rights. But, the court ruled, they could be made to pay what they termed “agency fees” or “free-rider fees”.
The current ruling mentions the previous case in this ruling to explain why it overturned precedence”
“We upheld a similar law in Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Ed., 431 U. S. 209 (1977), and we recognize the importance of following precedent unless there are strong reasons for not doing so. But there are very strong reasons in this case. Fundamental free speech rights are at stake. Abood was poorly reasoned. It has led to practical problems and abuse. “
Forty years went by and a man named Mark Janus, who was being charged $45 a month fee for the “services” the union provided.
Justice Alito wrote, “Janus strenuously objects to this free-rider label. He argues that he is not a free rider on a bus headed for a destination that he wishes to reach but is more like a person shanghaied for an unwanted voyage.” And that highlights one of the problems I have with the original ruling. I do not believe the government has the right to force a person to purchase goods or services. I strongly made that same point when it came to Obamacare. If you didn’t order it, you don’t have to pay. If an exterminator came to your house and sprayed the yard without you hiring them, they don’t have a right to charge you. If a package is delivered to your door that you didn’t order you are allowed to keep it and you don’t have to pay for it. It only makes common sense to me that if you didn’t join a union you shouldn’t be forced to pay for those services which you didn’t order. The court forty years ago didn’t show that common sense. In a way the court now didn’t either because their ruling was based on something else.
It was based on the 1st Amendment.
The original case had the court ruling that someone couldn’t be forced to join the union because that was forced political speech. The current court ruled that the same was true of the agency fees. I think justice Kennedy said it best during arguments.
“If you do not prevail in this case the unions will have less political influence; yes or no?” When the union lawyer answered that they would have less political influence Kennedy retorted, “Isn’t that the end of this case?” What he was highlighting, so elegantly, was that the unions were inherently political and any money given to them promoted in some way their politics. Janus did not agree with those politics nor did he want to be a part in promoting them. The agency fees forced him to do that and thus violated his 1st Amendment rights.
“Under Illinois law, public employees are forced to subsidize a union, even if they choose not to join and strongly object to the positions the union takes in collective bargaining and related activities. We conclude that this arrangement violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”
I still wish that this had been, at least in part, about forced purchasing but I am pleased that the court acknowledged, “We have held time and again that freedom of speech includes both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking at all.”
The dissenting opinion was rather simplistic in that it’s central argument was that the old case, “…fit comfortably with this Court’s general framework for evaluating claims that a condition of public employment violates the First Amendment.” To me it couldn’t be easier to reason that the earlier case rested on a fundamental misunderstanding of unions. Unions are political beasts. They take stands on issues one way or the other. Even if all they do is negotiate wages and benefits they take a stand on what is more important, wages or benefits, and what benefits take priority. Benefits themselves can be political in nature. Do they negotiate for abortion coverage in healthcare? For paternity leave for new fathers? For benefits for same sex couples? These things are all political to some.
Why is this such an important ruling?
Justice Kennedy’s words above put it well, this ruling does, in fact, reduce the influence and power of unions. Also, the dissenting opinion also explains why very well, “Public employee unions will lose a secure source of financial support.” That of course assumes that unions are a thing to be desired. Which brings us right to the very idea that unions are inherently political. Their very existence is a thing to be debated. I am not anti-union (per se) but I see they have had a detrimental influence on things.
We pay taxes to the government, the government gives that money to employees, and those employees pay their union dues and the unions in turn give that money as campaign contributions to politicians. It’s a money laundering scheme. It’s as if senator so-and-so passed a bill that gave himself a campaign contribution. If that happened we would all be up in arms and scream and yell. The way it works with unions is no different, they just use a middle man and pass laws to help the unions thus making sure they keep getting the contributions.
Union membership has been on a steady decline for decades being the lowest it has been since the 1920’s and 1930’s when being a union member was actually important. In our modern America most people don’t actually need a union. That is most certainly true of employees that work for the federal government. Wanting to keep their money, not wanting to support political causes, and having no need for the services have driven the drop in membership. But, while membership dropped contribution to candidates (especially Democrats) has risen. How can this happen? How can they have reduced membership but have more money to throw around? The answer is found in this case – access fees.
The only free-riders have been the unions and the politicians who support them in an incestuous way.Public Sector Unions Court Ruling