Thursday, June 27, 2019 marks one year since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mark Janus, a former union employee who was aggrieved because the agency fees that he was forced to pay to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) were being used to promote political speech with which he disagreed.
Janus worked for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services as a child support specialist, and he disagreed with not only AFSCME’s political stances, but the tactics and positions that the union took toward collective bargaining. He believed the positions taken by AFSCME did not take the fiscal crises in Illinois into consideration, and therefore did not represent the best interests of Illinois citizens, himself or his colleagues in the department.
Agency fees are supposed to be a “proportionate share” of what union members pay for services and representation, covering activities “germane to [the union’s] duties as collective bargaining representative.” The agency fees deducted from Janus’ paycheck totalled $535 annually, and were used to conduct activities with which he disagreed.
The main argument in support of agency fees is that collective bargaining agents are required to represent all employees during negotiations, thus both members and non-members should be required to pay for these services. However, some employees, such as Janus, may not agree with the positions taken by their union during the collective bargaining process, yet they are forced to pay for a service they do not want. Before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFCSME, unions could coerce employees to pay agency fees, and have historically labeled workers like Janus as “free riders” for receiving the perceived benefit of these services without being dues-paying members. But consider the following quote from the Janus decision:
“Petitioner strenuously objects to this free-rider label. He argues that he is not a free rider on a bus headed for a destination that he wishes to reach but is more like a person shanghaied for an unwanted voyage. Whichever description fits the majority of public employees who would not subsidize a union if given the option, avoiding free riders is not a compelling interest. As we have noted, “free-rider arguments . . . are generally insufficient to overcome First Amendment objections.” To hold otherwise across the board would have startling consequences. Many private groups speak out with the objective of obtaining government action that will have the effect of benefiting nonmembers. May all those who are thought to benefit from such efforts be compelled to subsidize this speech?”
In addition to the quote above, the free rider argument was further scrutinized by the high court because public-sector unions desire the ability to represent all employees in order to have power over the collective bargaining process. The Supreme Court argued that the power gained by representing all employees outweighs the burden of representing non-members who do not pay dues, and concluded that agency fees are a violation of public employees’ First Amendment protections under the U.S. Constitution. In addition, the Court ruled that agency fees cannot be deducted from a non-union public employee’s paycheck without affirmative consent. While this is a clear benefit to public employees, there is still work that needs to be done to protect these rights.
My Pay My Say Maine, a project of The Maine Heritage Policy Center, is a new initiative in Maine dedicated to educating public employees on their right to opt out of union membership and stop subsidizing activities with which they disagree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States was estimated to have approximately 7.17 million public employees who are members of a union in 2018, or around 33.9 percent of public-sector workers overall.
While the Janus decision has freed non-union workers from paying agency fees, legislators this session rejected a bill, LD 1232, that would have removed provisions from state statute that require public-sector employees to pay dues, fees or assessments for collective bargaining. While this proposal included Right-to-Work reforms, the Labor and Housing Committee could have reported out an amendment that simply struck the existing provisions within state law that conflict with Janus decision. This change should be made because public-sector employees deserve to know they are no longer required to pay dues or agency fees to government unions, and these protections should be codified in state law.
The current statute reads, “an employee may be required to pay to the organization that is the bargaining agent for the employee a service fee that represents the employee’s pro rata share of those expenditures that are germane to the organization’s representational activities.” This begs the question: Are lawmakers actively working to conceal the rights of public employees under Janus?
These devious tactics are not new or unique to the state of Maine. Within two weeks of the Janus decision, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York signed an executive order to prevent public entities from sharing public employees’ contact information with outside groups. In essence, he did not want outside groups to inform public-sector employees of their rights to opt out of their union. A bill with similar intent passed with legislative approval in Maine and was signed by Governor Mills on June 20.
LD 1451 mandates that public employers provide a collective bargaining agent with the name, job title, workplace location, home address, work telephone number, personal telephone number, work email address, personal email address and date of hire of new employees. In addition, this information cannot be disclosed to the public and cannot be obtained through a Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) request. In summation, this new legislation allows unions to bombard public employees with information about joining their union and prevents outside organizations from informing those same employees of their constitutional rights under Janus.
In addition to providing this information to unions, public employers are going to be required to provide a meeting space for an employee and collective bargaining agent to meet on the employer’s premises for at least 30 minutes, and permits bargaining agent to use the employer’s email system to communicate with employees. Public employees can only opt out of receiving communications from a collective bargaining agent or stop allow them from having further access to their information after the initial meeting and disclosure of private information is made.
In summation, public-sector unions will stop at nothing to continue suppressing public employees’ right to opt out of union membership and stop subsidizing the organization. The My Pay My Say Maine website and campaign will assist in the endeavor of educating public employees about their rights under Janus.
Regardless of one’s position of union membership, it is reproachable to prevent individuals from learning about First Amendment protections in the workplace. These attempts to suppress information only serve the interests of unions, not the workers they are supposed to represent.