Washington Now a Right to Work State for Public Sector
FROM THE DESK OF ERIN SHANNON
DIRECTOR, WPC’S CENTER FOR WORKER RIGHTS
This is a pivotal moment for our state and the nation.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court announced a landmark ruling in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), ending the forced unionization of government workers by giving them the right to reject paying a union for representation.
The Court found requiring government employees to pay union dues or “agency fees” as a condition of employment violates their First Amendment rights. The Court recognized that everything public sector unions do, including collectively bargaining with the government, is inherently political since it pertains to public policy and taxpayer money. It is therefore a violation of government workers’ constitutional rights to be forced to support the union in any way, including financially.
The ruling overturns a previous U.S. Supreme Court ruling 41 years ago, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which held that unions representing government workers could compel them to financially support that union. Under the Abood decision, workers could opt out of paying the small portion of union dues that fund specific political and ideological activity, but every worker was still forced to pay “agency fees” to the union for representation, even if they did not want that representation.
The Court’s ruling in favor of plaintiff and Illinois government employee Mark Janus means every public employee in the country now has the right to decide for themselves whether to financially support a union. The Janus decision protects the constitutional freedom of association rights of public workers in all 50 states and gives them the power of choice.
The importance of the Court’s ruling in the Janus case cannot be overstated. In Washington state, public sector unions have exerted undue influence over policymaking, paid for by the never-ending, guaranteed revenue from the union dues and agency fees forcibly extracted from government workers.
It is organized labor that has consistently blocked many of the much-needed, WPC recommended, policy reforms that would make Washington a better state to live and do business. From improving the state’s small business climate, to addressing the transportation crisis, reforming our education system, reducing government spending and increasing government transparency, the powerful special interest group that is organized labor has been the common denominator in opposition.
Until this influence is diluted, there will remain an imbalance of power that will stymie meaningful reform.
Thanks to the Court’s ruling in Janus, we now have the opportunity to level the playing field and restore the balance of power by ending public sector unions’ forced-dues gravy train.
The Janus ruling isn’t just about policy. Millions of workers now have the freedom to choose whether to support their union. Prior to the Janus ruling, these workers were disenfranchised and forced to pay for union activities and policies they do not agree with, and that often are against their own economic interests.
Just last month Mark shared with WPC and Solutions Summit participants his story of how he went from a child support specialist for the state of Illinois whose job is to protect children, to the lead plaintiff in a case to protect the rights of millions of public workers. LINK TO HIS SPEECH ON OUR WEBSITE Mark says that contrary to the union propaganda painting him as a union-buster, he is not anti-union. He simply doesn’t feel the union he is forced to pay represents his best interests, nor does it represent his values:
I am not anti-union. Unions have their place. And some people like them. But unions aren't a fit for everyone. And I shouldn't be forced to pay money to a union if I don't think it does a good job representing my interests.
The union says it is advocating for me, but here is how I see it: At a time when Illinois is drowning in red ink and does not have the money to deliver core services, such as caring for the poor and disadvantaged, the union is wrangling taxpayers for higher wages and pension benefits for state workers — benefits that Illinoisans cannot afford. The union’s fight is not my fight.
The Court’s ruling in favor of Mark Janus is a victory, but the battle for worker rights is really just beginning. Rather than focus on convincing workers of the value of their services, government unions have been working overtime on schemes to circumvent the ruling, misinform and mislead government workers about their rights, and prevent those workers from exercising those rights. Government unions, aided by the policymakers they helped elect, have already built a gauntlet of roadblocks that make it difficult and confusing for government workers to navigate and overcome.
In response, WPC has launched a multi-pronged effort to help ensure every public employee in the state, at all levels of government, knows and understands their right to reject paying their government union for representation they may not want. We will also help direct workers to the resources they need to exercise their right to choose. In addition, WPC will engage in a campaign to educate the general public so they know this ruling is not something to be circumvented but a triumph of freedom to be celebrated.
To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, with pubic opinion anything is possible – without it, nothing is.
Freedom has the momentum, but we must seize our opportunity now. The other side will be desperate to continue to collect money they see as “theirs.” We have a chance to even the playing field and make them earn only voluntary contributions like we do.
Without your help, our work will not be possible. Thank you for allowing WPC to work to protect individual worker rights, and give free market policy a fighting chance in Washington state.