What’s the best way to protect government workers? Don’t ask Illinois.
Late last year, the Land of Lincoln passed a law that severely limits government workers’ freedom. It restricts their ability to opt out of union membership, despite clear guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet while Illinois is infringing on public employees’ rights, Missouri is taking steps to empower them. Bills under consideration in Missouri’s state General Assembly deserve attention and applause from all who care about government workers.
The situation in both states revolves around the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFCSME. In that historic case, the justices ruled that public employees can’t be forced to pay dues to unions. It also held that public employers need evidence that their employees actually want to pay union dues, saying public employees should opt in as opposed to having to opt out of a union.
In essence, the Supreme Court held that forced public-sector union dues are unconstitutional and infringe on government workers’ First Amendment rights. The plaintiff in the case was Illinois state employee Mark Janus, who didn’t support the policies his union advocated both politically and on the job. The Supreme Court freed him and more than 5 million others from being forced to pay for things they opposed for moral or personal reasons. It was a clear-cut win for worker freedom.
Needless to say, government unions did not like the decision. It gave every public employee in America a choice on whether to support the union or not. In labor strongholds such as Illinois, along with the rest of the nation, public-sector unions are now supposed to convince workers to pay them dues.
But it turns out the unions were sore losers. Rather than abide by the decision, they quickly worked with friendly legislators to work around it. Illinois was their ground zero.
The law that passed the Illinois legislature last year essentially gave government unions everything they wanted. It gives union workers as few as 10 days a year to opt out of union membership. It also allows unions to automatically deduct dues from worker paychecks unless workers explicitly say no.
Worse, the law tries to prevent workers from getting information on how to say no in the first place.
The result of this law is that Illinois public employees are starting to lose the freedom restored by the Supreme Court. Their hard-fought victory has been whittled away.
Fortunately, Missouri is close to taking the opposite — and better — path. The state General Assembly is moving forward with pro-worker bills for public employees originally introduced by Sen. Robert Onder. The bills put the Janus decision into state law, declaring that public employees must explicitly agree that a union can take dues money from their paychecks.
The difference with the two bills couldn’t be starker. In Illinois, public unions still have all the power. In Missouri, if Sen. Onder’s bill passes, public employees will be the ones in control of their paychecks and futures.
As for public employees in Illinois, they have little hope of overturning their state’s law. Their best bet is for the Supreme Court to take this up again, striking down the Illinois law and delivering another, even clearer, win for worker freedom.
Until that happens, Illinois’ government workers may want to consider moving to Missouri.