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The Leaflet: Millions May Soon Gain the Right to Work

June 21, 2018

SCOTUS' upcoming Janus has the potential to put personal freedom back into the hands of workers and forever change the role of unions in the U.S. workforce.

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon release its ruling on the viability of public sector unions. In the landmark case Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the court will determine whether forced union dues are an infringement of state and local government workers’ rights to freedom of speech and association.

Proponents of “open shop” or “right-to-work” (RTW) laws are confident the court will overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (DBE), a 1977 Supreme Court decision that upheld the right for public unions to collect “fair share” or “agency fees” from non-union employees. The plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME, Mark Janus, is an Illinois state employee who argued agency fees are a violation of his First Amendment rights, especially given the inherent political nature of public sector collective bargaining.

Although it is illegal to compel union membership, non-union public workers in states without RTW must often fork over agency fees to unions. These fees are used to support union collective bargaining activities and contract enforcements. Currently, state laws mandate all union and non-union public employees are represented in the collective bargaining process by a democratically elected union, which becomes the exclusive bargaining representative.

Opponents of RTW laws argue workers who opt out of union membership should pay a fee, albeit one that is lower than union dues. Furthermore, RTW foes contend non-union employees receive the advantage of union-negotiated collective-bargaining agreements, such as high wages and top-tier benefits.

In a new Research & Commentary, Heartland Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans comments on the ramifications of a ruling in favor of Janus. “In anticipation of the upcoming ruling, many states have passed new laws, either strengthening unions or making it easier for state workers to opt out without penalties,” Glans wrote.

Instead of imposing rules limiting workers’ freedoms, Glans argues, “States can implement paycheck protection laws, and give workers control over their wages. States can also implement an opt-in standard for union participation, where a new worker has to choose to be in a union when they start a new job, instead of choosing to opt out. If ending the current opt-out standard is not possible, states can improve the process by requiring an opt-out only once per job or when a worker changes jobs, instead of having to wait until the end of a 12-month period.”

Currently, 28 states have RTW laws, and a decision in favor of Janus should not deter the 22 other states from passing RTW laws. These laws govern all employees within the state, so both private- and public-sector workers are not obligated to pay union fees as a condition of employment. In the wake of Janus v. AFSCME, state legislators should pass “open shop” laws to secure the fundamental right to free speech and association for millions of workers and to grant workers sufficient notice and time to make an informed decision regarding union membership.

 

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Energy & Environment
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Budget & Tax
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From Our Free-Market Friends
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Author
Arianna Wilkerson works in government relations at The Heartland Institute.
awilkerson@heartland.org