Employee Freedom Update: Who are Mark Janus and Rebecca Friedrichs?

Who are Mark Janus and Rebecca Friedrichs? And why did I write about them in The Wall Street Journal today?

Mark Janus works as a child support specialist with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, advocating for kids when their parents aren’t together anymore. He didn’t find out he was required to pay union fees until he saw fees deducted from his first paycheck. Mark loves his job, but he doesn’t see the union that he is forced to support working for the good of Illinois.  He doesn’t want to have to give money to a union to keep his job. And he’s not alone.

Rebecca Friedrichs, whose name may sound familiar, is a California school teacher who loves teaching children to read and write by introducing them to a lifelong passion for learning. Rebecca loves her job, too but because she did not agree with the teachers’ union positions, she was bullied and ostracized. She did not want to give money to a union that undermined good educational policy to keep her job either.

As Americans, Mr. Janus and Mrs. Friedrichs should be allowed to express their political beliefs in ways they choose, not in ways that are chosen for them—and certainly not as a ransom for working in their chosen professions.

Mrs. Friedrichs sued the teachers’ union; her case went all the way to the Supreme Court. It looked like she had won 5-4 but Justice Scalia died before the opinion could be published.

So, Mark Janus has picked up the banner. His case, Janus v. AFSCME, will be heard by the justices this term, with a decision expected by June of 2018.

This week Rebecca Friedrichs said, “I’m overjoyed to hear the Supreme Court will hear Janus v. AFSCME. As a teacher, I was forced for decades to fund a union whose self-focused policies and political agenda undermine the sacred “Education Triangle” – the relationship between teachers and the children and parents we’re hired to serve, thus damaging American schools. I hope the Court will end the practice of forced unionism restoring choice and a voice to American workers like me so the Education Triangle can be restored, and unions can learn to serve the needs of workers instead of serving themselves.”

What is this case about?

This case is about protecting every government employee’s First Amendment right to choose which organizations he or she will and won’t support with his or her money, but current law prevents citizens from exercising that right.

Right now, public sector employees aren’t given a choice – they’re automatically forced to give their money to a union.

Employee freedom doesn’t mean “union-busting.”

People who want to be in a union can still be in a union and give their money to a union. Nothing changes for them. But people who don’t want to be in a union or give their money to a union will no longer be forced to pay dues – they’ll have a choice.

How are government unions reacting?

As I recounted  in The Wall Street Journal today, Education Minnesota, in anticipation of this case, is attempting to lock in both members and dues revenue from the 86,000 teachers in Minnesota—and they plan to raise dues by $14 a year to pay for their effort.

As teachers settle into a new school year, they will be shown a video featuring Education Minnesota’s president, Denise Specht, asking them to sign a “membership renewal” card. The union has already filled out cards for all of the state’s 86,000 teachers, who are asked merely to add their signatures. One union representative told me the renewal form is being distributed in anticipation of Janus.

 Warning: The teachers’ card contains auto-renewal language; if enforced it would force teachers to opt-out every year even if Janus wins and they no longer belong to the union. I have called it the “roach motel.” You can check out but you can never leave.

As I said in the Journal: The cynical bet is that most teachers will sign the card, if they haven’t already, without reading it or understanding what it means. 

It is my assumption that government unions are trying to lock in members and revenues all over the country with these auto-renewal cards.

But there are other reactions: unions like Minnesota Association of Public Employees are cutting their budgets by twenty percent or more. You can read about MAPE’s pre-Janus planning here.

It is our hope at the Center that government unions will make a cultural shift and welcome this as an opportunity to treat employees as customers instead of captives.

How important is this case?

Janus v. AFSCME is one of the most important constitutional cases in recent history. For 40 years, employees at unionized workplaces have been forced to pay union fees as a condition of their employment. The current precedent was set in 1977 by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case called Abood. The Court mistook the issue as a labor issue, rather than one of freedom of expression and association.

If the Supreme Court rules in Janus’ favor, every government employee across the country will have the right to choose for himself or herself whether to give money to a union.  This is equivalent to Minnesota passing a right-to-work constitutional amendment– only better because it will be the law of land.

In states that recently passed similar legislation, about 20 percent of employees opted out of the union.

The healthy impact on electoral spending, the tone of our political rhetoric and our electoral process cannot be overstated.