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The year of employee freedom, thanks to U.S. Supreme Court

It’s the beginning of National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW), which celebrates the liberties, policies, and laws that give workers a choice on whether or not to join a labor union. The year 2018 has been historic in that regard. On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned 41 years of precedent and ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that charging compulsory agency fees to government workers violates their First Amendment rights, and is therefore unconstitutional.

Agency, or fair share fees, were charged to 5 million public school teachers and other government workers in 22 forced-union states, including Pennsylvania. Fair share fees for non-union workers were usually lesser than (but sometimes equal to) union dues, and were meant to cover the union’s cost of collective bargaining, contract enforcement, and handling grievances. Any political or ideological activity was deemed “unchargeable” to non-union workers, but as the Supreme Court has noted in this and recent cases, the very act of collective bargaining affects state and local budgets funded by taxes, and is therefore inherently political.

The fundamental problem? Workers never got a choice. 

If you wanted to teach, you never had the option of declining the union’s representation and negotiating your own salary and benefits. And if you didn’t pay up, you couldn’t work in public schools at all—period. Many fee-paying educators, like Jodie Kratz, Robin Fought, and Joe Connolly, became involved with Free to Teach because they despised financially supporting a teachers’ union whose politics and ideology were diametrically opposed to their own. 

That’s why the Supreme Court’s Janus decision was a sea change in public sector labor law. Justice Sam Alito penned the majority opinion, and explained:

We can safely say that, at the time of the adoption of the First Amendment, no one gave any thought to whether public- sector unions could charge nonmembers agency fees. Entities resembling labor unions did not exist at the founding, and public-sector unions did not emerge until the mid-20th century. The idea of public-sector unionization and agency fees would astound those who framed and ratified the Bill of Rights. Thus, the Union cannot point to any accepted founding-era practice that even remotely resembles the compulsory assessment of agency fees from public-sector employees. We do know, however, that prominent members of the founding generation condemned laws requiring public employees to affirm or support beliefs with which they disagreed. As noted, Jefferson denounced compelled support for such beliefs as “‘sinful and tyrannical,’”…and others expressed similar views (p. 21).

Janus has made 2018 a monumental year for worker freedom. We’ve been celebrating for months, but we’re especially excited to do so for NEFW. Watch our blog this week for more on teacher freedom issues!

Americans for Fair Treatment

Americans for Fair Treatment is a free, membership, non-profit organization designed to help public sector workers exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of coercion from unions.