Americans are back to work this week after celebrating another Labor Day holiday.
By the time the next Labor Day rolls around in 2018, the country’s labor laws – particularly as they relate to public employee unions – could be dramatically different.
That’s thanks to a lawsuit emanating from the state of Illinois.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide later this month whether it will hear arguments in the case Janus v. AFSCME.
Mark Janus is a child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. He fights for kids who get caught up in custody disputes or who otherwise need an advocate outside of their families.
As a non-salaried state employee, Janus was forced to pay fees to the American Federal of State, County and Municipal Employees Union. He didn’t realize it until he received his first paycheck and noticed a portion of his salary went to AFSCME.
Janus didn’t like that. He and many others like him believe that being forced to pay dues to a union whose representation they don’t want and whose politics they don’t agree with is a violation of their First Amendment rights.
Make no mistake: Unions, both public sector and private, are political organizations.
The National Institute for Labor Relations Research issued data earlier this year that showed labor unions spent more than $1.7 billion on last year’s election. That’s more than George Soros and the Koch brothers combined. In Illinois, unions spent more than $35 million on political campaigns in 2016.
Janus and thousands of others like him essentially are forced to contribute to political organizations that donate to the campaigns of candidates they otherwise wouldn’t support.
“I don’t see my union working totally for the good of Illinois government,” Janus said in a guest column published in the Chicago Tribune. “For years, it supported candidates who put Illinois into its current budget and pension crisis. Government unions have pushed for government spending that made the state’s fiscal situation worse.”
So Janus sued AFSCME.
As his attorneys anticipated, Janus lost every step of the way as the case made its way through Illinois’ federal courtrooms. In March, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals struck it down, opening the door for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. His attorneys filed that petition in June, and the court is expected to decide whether to accept the case by Sept. 28.
If the Supreme Court decides to take the case, Janus has a good shot at winning.
A similar case in California, Friedrichs vs. the California Teachers Association, made it to the Supreme Court in 2016. The court split on the California case, 4-4. But that decision was rendered after conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died. Scalia likely would have joined his colleagues who ruled in favor of Rebecca Friedrichs, a California school teacher who also believed her constitutional rights were being violated by being forced to pay union dues.
With Neil Gorsuch – President Donald Trump’s pick to replace Scalia – now on the bench, advocates for both sides of the issue are focused on Janus.
If Janus wins, millions of government workers who have been forced to give up part of their salaries to unions they don’t support will no longer have to if they don’t want.
Unions, essentially, will have to prove to public employees that their representation is worth the cost of the dues they charge.
And that’s the way it should be.