It’s been a good week at the Supreme Court. It is disquieting that four justices believe it is constitutional for the government to force pro-life pregnancy centers to advocate for abortion, or that the president loses his executive authority if he said bad things on the campaign trail, but in the end California’s law mandating abortion support was overturned and the so called travel ban was upheld.
While both of those cases are interesting, today I want to discuss the last case to be decided this year: Janus v. AFSCME. When the sun rose on June 27, 2018, approximately half the States had laws forcing government employees to pay union dues even if they did not want to join a union. By the time the sun set, that was recognized as an unconstitutional act.
Supporters of the law argued giving employees a choice would create free-riders who benefited from the union’s negotiations but never paid to support their work. In essence, their argument was that because public sector unions could not convince government workers it was in their interest to join a union, the government should force them to join.
Unions: so good they have to be mandatory.
But the legal case was not about the value of unions, it was about the First Amendment. The Court, correctly, ruled that preventing free-riders does not justify compelling individuals to pay for political speech.
And here we get to the heart of the matter. A compromise was reached several decades ago whereby government employees could be forced to pay the portion of union dues the union said went to negotiations, but not the portion that goes towards political advocacy. But when dealing with public sector unions, it’s all political.
In the private sector, unions represent employees and management represents the shareholders. Unions want as much pay and benefits for their members as possible, and management is incentivized to keep as much for the shareholders as possible. There is a natural tension that serves to keep the process in balance.
In the public sector, unions represent employees and management is made up of politicians. Unions want as much pay and benefits for their members as possible, and politicians are incentivized to win political support. Politicians are typically more than willing to spend somebody else’s money to win over a voting block, especially one, such as public sector unions, that is famous for donating to politicians and wrangling up volunteers for their campaigns.
The Supreme Court rightly ruled that all public sector union activity is political and therefore the government cannot force anyone to pay into it. That is good, but it is not enough. The next step is for Congress to outlaw their existence.
I am all for private sector unions, assuming the employees genuinely want to join one and are not being intimidated into voting for them. Privately formed advocacy groups willingly entered into are at the heart of the conservative vision for a free society.
But public sector unions are a conspiracy against the people. Government employees win, unions win, politicians win – the American people lose. Numerous local governments have faced bankruptcy because politicians gave government employees lavish benefits in exchange for political support. Unqualified teachers remain on the payroll because the teachers’ union has made it nearly impossible to fire them or pay teachers for the quality of their work.
Public sector employees are supposed to serve the public. But by introducing public sector unions, the worst impulses of politicians are harnessed to support and protect the government employee not the mission.
No government employee needs to pay for a union they don’t want, and that’s as far as the Court should have gone in this case. But now Congress should take up the mantle and ban public sector unions entirely.