November 16, 2018 — The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision from June in Janus v. the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was clear: Public employees no longer are required to pay union dues, even for collective-bargaining purposes. This was no technical or ambiguous point. The court declared it an infringement of the First Amendment when the government forces workers to financially support organizations that they don’t want to support.
Case settled, right? Not entirely. Public-sector unions, especially in California, aren’t used to finding themselves on the losing end of a public-policy battle. As Janus made its way to the high court, some of the state’s unions successfully lobbied the Democratic-controlled Legislature to pass laws designed to undermine the expected decision in that case, which involved an Illinois social-worker who didn’t want to pay dues to his local AFSCME union.
For instance, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that gives unions on-the-job access to California public employees, where union organizers can provide “orientations” touting the benefits of union membership. Unions also have been sending public employees contracts that include “trap language.” In essence, the public employees were given contracts that essentially signed away any post-Janus rights. In signing the contracts, they are trapped into paying dues even though the high court said they no longer were required to do so.
We’re already seeing the fruits of these anti-Janus activities. In order to circumvent the decision, some California union leaders now are telling their members that they can resign their membership but that those contracts they signed require them to continue paying the union at the same rate. Some of the unions are calling this a service fee, but they can call it whatever they choose: It undermines the clear words, intent and spirit of Janus.