Viewpoint: Janus v. AFSCME changes the game for public unions
Earlier this summer, if you were offered a public school teaching position in Delaware you would have been mandated to join the Delaware teachers’ union (DSEA). Union dues would automatically deduct from your paycheck, and unless you “opted out,” monthly contributions to the union’s Political Action Committee would be deducted as well.
If you were offered most government job positions in Delaware you would be mandated to join the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Union dues would automatically be deducted from your paycheck.
DSEA and Delaware ASFCME used member dues to pour millions of dollars into the campaigns of union-friendly elected officials, mostly Democrats. The intent was that those elected officials would support spending on union compensation and promote better working conditions.
The rules of the game changed when the Supreme Court of the U.S. issued a 5-4 ruling on Janus v. AFSCME.
Mark Janus, a Springfield, Illinois, social worker, declined to join the Illinois AFSCME union. Janus did not agree with the political shenanigans in which AFSCME was engaged. The union endorsed candidates and spent money on electioneering. While pushing for increased pay and benefits, the union advocated for the increased taxes that were submarining the Illinois economy.
The Supreme Court rejected the idea that the unions’ interest in collecting what they called “fair share” fees trumps a nonmembers First Amendment rights. AFSCME argued that Janus was a “free rider” enjoying the benefits paid for by member dues. Janus said he was not a free rider to a desired destination, but more like a person shanghaied for an unwanted voyage.
In a study of the compensation of Delaware state employees – excluding public safety and teachers – the Delaware Public Policy Institute found that after controlling for education and other factors that state government employees receive somewhat lower salaries than private sector workers, but benefits that are approximately 53 to 102 percent more generous than similar private sector workers. The most generous benefits to state workers are in pensions and health coverage.
The unions have been so successful that elected officials have swarmed to write checks that they cannot afford. According to studies from a variety of organizations, the state of Delaware has an unfunded health-care liability of $7 billion (total annual state spending is $4.4 billion).
DSEA has managed to get the state legislature to erect substantial barriers to the opening of additional charter schools in Delaware, and have thwarted other efforts at increasing school choice. Meanwhile, according to national tests (NAEP), two-thirds of Delaware’s public school eighth-graders are functionally illiterate in reading and math.
Flush with money and influence, union managements have drifted into advocating progressive positions that are supported by a minority of voters and have little to do with the delivery of state services. Among these are such policies as the elimination of all migration regulations, free college and allowing first-graders to declare their gender without parental input.
Ever since the passage of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, conservatives and business owners have argued that the coerced payment of union dues is a violation of First Amendment rights. A battle has ensued.
Today 28 states have Right To Work laws that prevent mandatory union membership as a condition of employment. Court case after court case has been fought. In the most recent, public unions were prevented from extracting union dues from public funds received by home health-care workers.
Both advocates of closed union shops and free labor markets have strongly held beliefs, and Janus v. AFSCME is another round in this contentious battle.
With cutbacks in union support following a drop in member dues, the pendulum may shift in Dover. The result could be reduced taxes, improved public education and restored economic growth.
On a positive note, the unions will have to better market the many tangible benefits they offer members, such as legal representation and training.
Dr. John E. Stapleford is the president of DECON First, which provides web-based marketing strategies based upon economic analysis and web presence research. Contact: [email protected] or (302) 650-4965.