This article first appeared September 9, 2019 on The Hill.
Years ago, when Mike Jackson and Tory Smith started working in the Parking Department at the University of California, San Diego, they assumed they were required to join the public employees’ union. Not that it made much difference whether they joined or not. At the time, 22 states, including California, required workers who didn’t join the union to pay “agency fees” — an amount of money just shy of full union dues — to cover the union’s costs for collective bargaining. Either way, the union would automatically deduct about $600 annually from their paychecks.
Last summer, the Supreme Court held in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Local 31, that public employees cannot be forced to pay agency fees. The court reasoned that collective bargaining with a government agency is inherently political because it involves tax dollars and government budgets. Workers have a First Amendment right to avoid being forced to subsidize political speech against their will.
The key point is that public workers have a choice: join the union or don’t; pay union dues or don’t. Workers who value the union’s services will join; those who do not value those services will not.
Most public workers don’t know they have this choice and the unions have every financial incentive to keep that information secret. But what about the employers? Can’t state agencies inform their workers that they have a constitutional right to work without union membership? Not in California.
Former California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law on the day Janus was decided that forbids public agencies from communicating with their employees about union membership and dues. It allows only union representatives to address new employees at their orientation meetings and forbids the agencies from disclosing even the time and place of such meetings. California agencies can’t even send email to workers regarding union membership or dues without the union’s approval of the content.