On Wednesday, the Supreme Court held that public sector unions could not use the force of government to compel non-union members to pay so-called “agency fees” — quasi-membership fees charged to them without their consent. This ruling will have a significant impact on public sector unions that have ill-served their members and non-members, many of whom will opt out of being part of the unions, undercutting the monetary base for some of those unions altogether.
That’s a good thing.
Here’s what you need to know.
The law in the state of Illinois as well as federally states that if the majority of employees in a particular “bargaining unit” — as defined by a government agency — vote to join a union, that union then represents all employees for purposes of collective bargaining. This is insanity. It is a government-approved and instituted monopoly. Your ability to control your own labor is therefore subjected to a third party non-governmental organization, enforced with the government gun. Unions that do a good job represent enough employees that they don’t have to kneecap scabs to avoid people crossing picket lines or undercutting union negotiations. Unions sponsored by the government effectively kneecap any political opposition they receive from individuals. This is why union contracts don’t benefit great teachers, for example, but do help out rotten teachers who become unfire-able. This system of creating “labor peace” through government-created union monopoly violates basic principles of free association and destroys the purpose of government itself — which is to protect your life, your liberty, and your property.
Furthermore, the notion of unions bargaining with the public sector is itself nonsensical. We have rules with regard to payment of state employees. They are created by legislatures, who are in turn answerable to the voter. The same does not hold true for union contracts, negotiated through tacit threat of strike. Public sector unions create the odd situation where the public pays to hire a police officer, for example, but the police officer tacitly works with the union to threaten to walk off the job, leaving the public unprotected. That’s blackmailing taxpayers. Now, such strikes have been generally held to be illegal, but that certainly hasn’t stopped them from taking place.
What’s more, public sector unions — unlike private sector unions — are bargaining with non-stakeholders. Private sector unions bargain with the bosses, who are innately adversarial in terms of negotiating for lower pay in order to create more profit margin. Public sector union negotiations aren’t adversarial — legislators are incentivized to make deals with checks they don’t have to write. What’s more, unions know this, and spend enormous quantities of cash in order to elect precisely the legislators they believe will sign the most generous contracts with the unions.
None of these issues were up for debate in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The issue up for debate was an even more insane law: after compelling all workers in a particular “bargaining unit” to be represented by a union they may not even like, the law in Illinois required those non-members to pay cash to the unions. The Supreme Court struck this down, stating clearly that this was a violation of First Amendment principles. Justice Alito correctly wrote:
Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates that cardinal constitutional command, and in most contexts, any such effort would be universally condemned.
Yes, yes, and yes.
So, what will the impact be on public sector unions? Presumably, they’ll lose a fair bit of cash; perhaps some lose enough members to be decertified as a union. Unions will still get to collectively bargain on behalf of classes until then, but there’s always the possibility that they won’t provide services that please enough people. That’s their problem, as it always should have been. Forcing people to pay money to a non-governmental institution they never voted for is tyranny. Good for the Supreme Court for recognizing that basic fact.