Will Minnesota be a right to work state by next June?

Photo from AP

Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed I wrote about how the teachers’ unions are preparing for a case called Janus v. AFSCME that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear this term. If Mark Janus wins his case, Minnesota and other forced-union-dues states will join 28 other “right to work” states where public employees can keep their job without paying any fees to a union. The decision is expected by June.

The title of my op-ed, Unions Act as if They’ve Already Lost, was chosen by my editors. It surprised me for its optimism. As the subtitle reveals, “The Supreme Court may soon ban so-called fair-share fees.” But as you can read in my op-ed, the unions are preparing for a loss by, for example, raising union dues.

It was the Supreme Court that allowed these “fair share fees” in back in 1977 when a teacher from Michigan argued that he should not be forced to support a government union in order to keep his job.

But the Court did something courts often do: instead of doing its job and ruling on the law, the Court split the baby, acting like a legislative body instead of a court. It crafted a law for the whole country that has warped our electoral and legislative process beyond recognition.

Congress does not get off the hook here. It long ago could have—and still should– force government unions to be fully transparent with how they spend union dues. But Congress is too afraid of the unions.

The Court decided that because unions were the exclusive bargaining agent, and thus had to represent all teachers at a school, it was only “fair” to ask public employees to cover what it costs the union to represent them in collective bargaining.

Otherwise, the Court reasoned, teachers (or any public employee), would be getting a “free ride.”

Here is the problem when courts forget that their job is to interpret the law, not make the law. The justices missed or ignored the fact that:

  1. The unions had demanded the right to exclusively represent all the employees in a bargaining unit under federal and state laws; and
  2. Those same labor laws allow unions to determine what gets included as a cost of collective bargaining. There is almost no oversight. In other words, they get to say what is “fair.”

So how has that worked out for all the local, state and federal employees who have been forced to support the political activities and speech of government unions for all these decades, forced to “speak” against their own beliefs and deeply-held convictions?

As I said in WSJ:

Under current rules teachers can opt out of paying the portion of dues that explicitly funds the union’s political activity, but there’s a narrow window to do it, and the process must be repeated every year. Moreover, because Education Minnesota claims to spend about 85% of dues on representational activities, most teachers don’t bother. For a lousy 15% back, it isn’t worth breaking from the union pack.

It’s not just teachers. All public employees are forced to pay about 85% of union dues when they “opt-out” of membership. That 85% certainly more than covers any cost to the union for including them in negotiations and has positioned Education Minnesota and its national affiliates, the NEA, the AFT and the AFL-CIO—and the other power houses like the SEIU and AFSCME–to disenfranchise voters and bully elected officials for decade by spending tens of millions of dollars every election cycle to advance an agenda that grows government and entrenches the union in power.

It must stop. We need to take our schools and government back from government unions.

As the editors at the Journal noted, this is not a done deal. The Court will have to accept the argument that ALL collective bargaining is political speech and therefore, the first amendment rights of public employees are violated when forced to pay “fair share fees.”  This is so obvious it is amazing the justice missed it in 1977.

And even if Mark Janus wins his case, public employees still need to “opt out” of membership. Education Minnesota and other unions are trying to contractually lock-in employees with sneaky “renewal cards” so beware. As a result, our work will just be starting to free public employees so they can freely choose whether to spend their hard-earned paychecks on politics, or not! It’s called Freedom.

Please help us reach teachers and all public employees by supporting the Center’s Employee Freedom Project.

If you want to know more about the Janus case, or wonder why this sounds so familiar,  I wrote more about it here. There was a dress rehearsal for this important First Amendment case in 2016 when Rebecca Friedrichs sued the teachers’ union in California.