Now 5.5 million employees in 22 states have their First Amendment freedom of association rights restored — including employees right here in Washington.
It’s easier to avoid a Goliath than it is to defy one. Child-support specialist Mark Janus chose the harder path.
As an employee of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Janus was forced to pay money to a government union whether he wanted to or not. He objected, and those objections led to legal action. At Washington Policy Center’s Solutions Summit events last month, Janus related how some of his colleagues refused to speak to him and how doors were rudely shut in his face. But he stood his ground.
He argued his union’s actions are inherently political. He said its political agenda undermines the needs of services for the vulnerable, and he disagreed with the union’s spending ideas given the fiscal crises in Illinois.
Budget priorities are commonly debated by Democrat and Republican candidates in every state. In other words, as Janus argued, they are subjects that are quintessentially political.
In the case Janus v. AFSCME, the U.S. Supreme Court this week agreed with Janus that everything a government union does is inherently political and recognized, “[w]hen speech is compelled … individuals are coerced into betraying their convictions. Forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable is always demeaning ….” and that violates the First Amendment.
The ruling corrected a 41-year wrong. Across the country, the decision not only affirmed the right of government employees like Janus to opt-out of union membership, it also recognized that an employee must affirmatively consent to opt in. In other words, every employee can still voluntarily choose to belong.
The court’s ruling that public employees retain their First Amendment freedom of association doesn’t destroy public-sector unions. It simply requires government unions to do the right thing — stop forcing people to join and start persuading them instead.
Before the Janus ruling, the Washington State Labor Council promised rallies against any decision favoring Janus. Their flyer advertised #FreedomToJoin. That’s a principle we can all agree on, but what they refuse to acknowledge is the freedom to join must come with the freedom not to join. Without it, there’s no freedom at all.
Making public-sector unions rely on voluntary membership like other civic organizations isn’t union busting.
How many times have we heard complaints that the National Rifle Association is so powerful it “owns” Washington D.C., and entire state legislatures? According to this view, the NRA is nearly all-powerful. Yet membership is voluntary. No one can be compelled to subsidize it, nor should anyone be. So how can it be accurate to say that requiring public-sector unions to persuade employees to voluntarily join is destroying them or silencing workers? Numerous voluntary associations wield considerable power, from The Nature Conservancy to AARP to the ACLU.
For 41 years, it’s been individual workers who have been unfairly silenced by having their voice in whether to join a public-sector union stripped from them. That stops now.
Gov. Jay Inslee, state lawmakers and local government leaders should respect the authority of our nation’s highest court and the spirit of its landmark ruling by immediately halting the collection of forced union dues and fees until they can verify that employees have been fully informed of their rights and have decided for themselves to contribute to their union.
Janus stood firm for his convictions. Now 5.5 million employees in 22 states have their First Amendment freedom of association rights restored — including employees right here in Washington.
That’s the power of standing up to Goliath.