by Jennifer Tiedemann
This past June, the highest court in the land handed down a major free speech victory for public employees in Janus v. AFSCME. Now, a new survey shows that a majority of public sector workers support the Court’s decision in Janus, including six in ten employees under the age of 35. Furthermore, nearly one-third of the employees polled say they have either already stopped paying fees to their union or are planning to do so soon. The evidence is clear: Public workers like more choice and more control over their ability to have a say.
Workers should have the ability to speak freely—and that includes the ability to not speak, if they so choose. But in many places, public sector employees have been denied this right, being forced to join unions and pay agency fees even when they disagree with the union’s actions. This week (August 19-25) is National Employee Freedom Week, celebrated by more than 100 local and national organizations—including the Goldwater Institute. And it’s the perfect time to reflect on this year’s wins for employee free speech—and the work that must still be done in this area.
In the Janus case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public sector employees cannot be compelled to pay fees to a union in order to work in the job of their choice. Illinois state employee Mark Janus had been forced to pay union fees—even though he did not belong to the union and objected to many of the union’s activities, including the political act of collective bargaining. The fees forcibly withheld from his paycheck—known as “agency fees”—were going toward efforts Mark did not believe in, which he contended was compelled support for union political speech. The Supreme Court agreed, ruling that it is unconstitutional to force public sector employees to be forced to pay union fees in order to work in the job of their choice.
Prior to the Janus decision, Goldwater Institute Director of National Litigation Jon Riches wrote that public sector employee negotiations are inherently political: “Unlike the private sector, in the public sector, wages, benefits and working conditions are paid by the government and through tax dollars. Each of these issues involve the size, scope, and proper functions of government – all political questions.” And that’s why it’s so important for these workers to be able to speak—or abstain from speaking—as they see fit: “Public sector collective bargaining is incompatible with the proper functioning of our democratic republic. And when the law mandates that employees who disagree with that process must finance it, a fundamental First Amendment violation occurs.”
While the Janus decision is now in the books, the fight for employee freedom is one that must continue. Check out the National Employee Freedom Week website for more info.
Jennifer Tiedemann is the communications manager at the Goldwater Institute.