by Jacob Huebert
June 29, 2017
As a child support specialist at the Department of Health and Family Services, Mark Janus advocates for children who are caught in the crossfire of their parents’ divorce. Every day he goes to work, hoping to smooth a difficult process and give the kids he serves as bright a future as possible.
But AFSCME Council 31 says that if this is the job Mark wants to do, then the union deserves a cut of his paychecks.
It shouldn’t be that way. Mark — and anyone else who wants to work in the public sector — should not have to pay money to a private organization like AFSCME just to have a job in which he can help kids. That’s why he’s asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case, Janus v. AFSCME.
The First Amendment gives everyone the right to choose which organizations we will and won’t join, or support with our money. Mark’s lawsuit argues that a citizen shouldn’t have to give up that right just because he or she wants to advocate for children in child support cases, be a firefighter or teach in a public school.
Union executives have a tired old line, which goes something like this: “Government workers who do not want to pay the union for its services are ‘free-riders.’” But these government workers they’re referring to are not free riders — they’re forced riders.
Mark doesn’t want the union’s services and the same goes for many government workers across the U.S. They would rather make their own deal, based on their individual merit as an employee. Before Mark worked for the state, he worked in the private sector and did just fine negotiating directly with his employer. Why can’t he do that now?
It’s no secret that Illinois’ finances are in shambles, and Mark is one of many state workers who view AFSCME’s current contract demands as unreasonable. Given the state’s unpaid bills and enormous pension deficit — a situation for which he believes the union is partly to blame — many union workers would be willing to do their part in helping Illinois government reduce spending and get its fiscal house in order.
But in states where governments are not on the brink of collapse, the unions wrongly assume that the deal they snag is the best one available to each and every employee. It looks at government workers as a monolithic group with identical demands and value. It means stellar state workers are treated the same as under-performers with the same job title and longevity.
The union also wrongly assumes that every government worker agrees with AFSCME’s priorities. They don’t. But Mark and the many others like him who don’t share their union’s priorities have to pay for its advocacy anyway. Again, these aren’t “free riders” but “forced riders.”
If successful, Janus v. AFSCME could give every public sector worker in the U.S. the ability to choose whether they want to join and pay money to a union at their workplace. People who want to be in a union, want to accept the union’s contact and want to support the union financially will still be able to do this.
And if the unions really deliver such great value and benefits, they should not fear the restoration of this right. Government workers should not be forced to support a union; they should be able to choose voluntarily whether it benefits them and their families. All other groups have to convince people that their work is worth supporting. There’s no reason to think unions couldn’t do so, too.
Mark Janus and other government employees who took their jobs because they wanted to serve the public shouldn’t have to also serve unions and their politics as part of the deal. The U.S. Supreme Court should recognize this, hear Mark’s case, and restore workers’ freedom to choose which organizations deserve their support.
— Jacob Huebert is a senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, which is representing Mark Janus in this case together with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.