Challenge to Mandatory Union Fees Could Free All Public Employees From Forced Union Fees

Education Minnesota tactics cited in briefs before the Court

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday heard the long-anticipated case brought by Mark Janus, an Illinois child support specialist who’s asking the Court to end mandatory “agency” or “fair-share” fees.

Mark Janus

Center of the American Experiment has joined Cato Institute and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) in an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of Mark JanusThe legal theory of the case is that all public-sector collective bargaining is political.

Several other briefs before the Court cite an opinion editorial by Kim Crockett in The Wall Street Journal. Crockett reported how Education Minnesota, the teachers’ union, raised union dues by $14 in response to the Janus case in an effort to get teachers to sign an auto-renewal union card with a narrow opt-out window of only one week each year.

Teachers in Minnesota pay between $800 and $1,400 in dues annually. Education Minnesota and other government unions like AFSCME-5 charge “fair-share” fee payers, employees who do not belong to the union, about 85 percent of full union dues. Fair-share fee payers are only supposed to pay for the cost of collective bargaining, yet they cannot vote on the contract.

“Does anyone really believe that Education Minnesota or AFSCME-5 are spending the bulk of their dues revenues on negotiating contracts?” said Kim Crockett, Vice President and General Counsel at American Experiment. “Everything the unions do, from collective bargaining, electioneering and lobbying, is inherently political because it affects taxes, spending and policies made by elected officials. No one should be forced to underwrite that.”

Supreme Court Pro-Janus Rally 2/26/18

American Experiment Vice President Kim Crockett and Policy Fellow Catrin Thorman participated in a rally on Monday on the Supreme Court steps to highlight support for the potentially ground-breaking case.

“I stand with Mark Janus because it is past time for all government employees to have the freedom to exercise the same rights as every other person in this country,” Thorman said in addressing the crowd outside the court. “Public sector employees should not be forced to pay fees to a government union they do not support and did not vote for as a pre-condition of employment. This is not ‘worker freedom.’ Freedom is not forced, and it is not one-sided.”

St. Paul high school teacher Aaron Benner, a former teacher union member, also addressed the rally on employee freedom.

St. Paul teacher Aaron Benner speaking at pro-Janus rally in Washington, DC

”I support Mark Janus because I want the choice of paying union dues,” Benner said. “After paying dues for 15 years to the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, I had faith my union would fight for me when I was accused of frivolous infractions after having zero infractions throughout my entire teaching career. Unions fight for you, that’s what they are supposed to do. Not in my case. Fifteen years’ worth of union dues and this was the representation I received: Silence.”

In addition to asking the Court to overturn the 1977 case that sanctioned mandatory agency fees (Abood v. Detroit School Board), American Experiment and allied policy organizations are asking the Court to rule that a public employee’s right to opt out “does not become a dead letter” by clarifying that a union may only collect fees from non-members who give their affirmative consent.

“If the Court overrules Abood, teachers and other public employees in Minnesota who want to opt out, could easily miss the narrow window—or find themselves caught in an annual contractual struggle with the union,” Crockett said. “Education Minnesota’s renewal agreement is an attempt to lock in union revenues of over $57 million a year. But if the unions do a good job, and focus on delivering value, they won’t need to trap people with sneaky fine print.”

According to its federal LM-2 filing, Education Minnesota had revenues of about $57 million in 2015-2016. It spent about $21 million on salaries and benefits of its employees, including president Denise Specht who is paid about $184,000 a year.

Data from Education Minnesota 2015-16 LM-2