A Day at the U.S. Supreme Court: All Public-Sector Collective Bargaining is Political [Updated With Videos]

There was a loud, wonderful demonstration all morning long on the steps of the Supreme Court. Hundreds of public employees from all over the country came with signs, hats and chants to demand two very different versions of freedom.

For the second time in two years, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today that the Court made a terrible error when it ruled against a group of school teachers in 1977. Those teachers, led by Louis Abood, argued that they should not be forced by the state to pay any fees to the teachers’ union. They said it violated their rights as citizens to be forced to associate with, and subsidize the speech of, the union.

The Court in 1977 agreed that public employees could not be forced to join the union but thought it was fair to force them, as a condition of employment, to cover the “administrative costs” of collecting bargaining. Otherwise, it reasoned, they would be “free-riders.” And besides, forced-fees would appease unions and “promote labor peace.”

What was the Court pretending not to know? That all money is fungible and that everything the union does is political. But no matter. Public employees should be grateful they have a job. Never mind about the Constitution.

That terrible compromise over 40 years ago made public employees second-class citizens. The Court has forced employees to pay a ransom to government unions for decades and fund what has turned out to be the most powerful political player in our country: government unions.

The governments in Minnesota and other states even deduct “fair share” fees, about 85% of full union dues in Minnesota, from employee paychecks and deposit the cash in union accounts. The teachers’ union in Minnesota took in $57 million last year.

But public employees have never accepted their second-class status. Two years ago, Rebecca Friedrichs, a school teacher, argued before the Court that all public-sector collective bargaining is political. It affects taxes, spending and public policy. By all accounts, she won her case 5-4 but Justice Scalia died before the opinion was released.

Mark Janus, a social worker for the state of Illinois, bravely picked up the thread. (Mark is pictured below with Rebecca Friedrichs and Aaron Benner speaking to media today.)

Aaron Benner, a former public-school teacher from St. Paul, was standing with Mark Janus today. He was the first to address a crowd of hundreds of public employees today from all over the country. Some were standing with Mark Janus, others had been bused in by the unions.

Benner was squeezed out from his job after he pushed back, on behalf of students and teachers, against a new “discipline” policy that limited his ability to hold minority students accountable for violent behavior. They dare call it “restorative justice.”

Benner noted the irony: he is the unicorn all schools are seeking. A black male, a gifted and dedicated teacher. And they got rid of him because he dared to rock the boat. His union not only failed to help him; it worked actively against him.

Center of the American Experiment was there, just like we were there two years ago to stand with Rebecca Friedrichs. Catrin Thorman and I addressed the crowd, standing with Mark Janus, and advancing the idea that Friedrichs, Janus and Benner should not be forced to fund the speech of union supporters.

I think we even convinced a few union supporters by the end of the rally. Many of them “infiltrated” our rally, wearing hats that said “Stand with Billionaires” in reference to the Evil Koch Brothers. They came to intimidate, elbow us and shout us down; by the end of the rally, they were listening. We have the better view of freedom.

The fun part was AFSCME had signs at the Minnesota Capitol last weekend, and at the rally today, saying “It’s About Freedom!” We liked that slogan so much that we adopted it as our own. That really threw them off. Then we adopted another union slogan, “Unrig the System!”

The Court would normally hold this case until the end of June but there is speculation that since this opinion was already partially drafted in 2016 for Friedrichs, that it could come out sooner. American Experiment will be ready.

UPDATE by John Hinderaker: I can’t tell you how proud I am of the Center staff who have worked so hard on employee freedom issues and who led the charge for liberty in Washington today. Here is American Experiment policy fellow Catrin Thorman addressing the crowd on the Supreme Court steps. (Don’t worry, these videos are all short!)

And here is American Experiment Vice President and Senior Policy Fellow Kim Crockett, author of this post, who has led the Center’s employee freedom project for the last several years. You can tell that when Kim was speaking, there were still some bused-in union members trying to make themselves heard:

And finally, Aaron Benner, formerly a teacher in the St. Paul public schools. When he came under attack for sticking up for his students, Aaron’s union abandoned him, and he is now teaching at an excellent private high school. Who lost out? St. Paul’s public school students. Chalk it up as one more consequence of public sector unionism run amok: