In the 10 months since the U.S. Supreme Court restored workers' rights and affirmed the tenets of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, more than 210,000 public employees across the country no longer are being forced to pay fees to unions they don't support.
They can thank Illinois' Mark Janus and others like him for their newfound freedom.
Janus was a former child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. He was forced to pay AFSCME Council 31 a part of his salary for 10 years, even though he declined to join the union and disagreed with the union's politics – including their collective-bargaining position of demanding huge pay increases from a state that is broke.
Union advocates maintained the dues Janus was forced to pay to AFSCME were his "fair share" for the wages and benefits the union negotiated on his behalf. And for 40 years, a legal precedent set by the Supreme Court in 1977 had backed the unions.
But Janus wasn't satisfied with the precedent. He felt strongly that his First Amendment rights guaranteeing his freedom to associate with whom he wanted – or not to associate with a union he wanted no part of – were being violated.
So he joined a lawsuit that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Last June, the Supreme Court agreed with him and struck down forced union fees as unconstitutional.
Since then, more than 210,000 Americans who were being forced to pay these fees to two of the largest public sector unions no longer are paying. That statistic is based on analysis from U.S. Department of Labor reports released last week.
"These numbers are an incredible confirmation of what we argued during my case: that all across the country, hundreds of thousands of government workers like me were forced against their will to give money to government unions, just so they could keep their jobs," Janus said. "That's why the decision in my case is so powerful. It freed these workers, and each of the 5 million public sector workers in America, from mandatory union fees."
Janus left his state of Illinois job shortly after the Supreme Court decision. He now is a senior fellow with the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center, which represented him during his lawsuit against the forced fees.
Janus and the rest of the LJC team continue their fight for workers' rights. While hundreds of thousands have been freed from paying these unconstitutional fees, many unions still are making it as difficult as possible for workers to exercise their rights.
The Liberty Justice Center, for example, is representing two University of California system workers who resigned from their unions and opted out of paying union fees in the wake of Janus vs. AFSCME. Despite the Supreme Court's decision, the workers say the university continues to deduct these fees.
Similar lawsuits have been filed in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oregon and elsewhere.
"Unfortunately, thousands more government workers are facing obstacles exercising their Janus rights," Janus said. "My fight on their behalf will continue until all government workers can easily exercise their right to choose whether to support a union or not."
Charles Mitchell, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, a nonprofit public policy organization in Pennsylvania, said state governments should be holding unions accountable.
“Union leaders are trying every trick in the book to keep workers in the dark about the rights restored to them by the Supreme Court,” Mitchell said in a statement related to a Pennsylvania lawsuit. “Enough is enough. It’s time for lawmakers to stand up for government workers and pass legislation to notify them of their true rights when it comes to paying a union.”
Workers cannot be forced to pay a union just for the right to work. The U.S. Supreme Court said so.
It's time for all unions and government agencies to recognize that fact.