June 27, 2018


Janus Decision Reins In Unions' Political Power (Daniel DiSalvo, June 27, 2018, NY Times)

In California, the public unions spent more on political campaigns in the first decade of this century than the pharmaceutical, oil and tobacco industries combined.

Mr. Janus's lawyers argued that this political activity conflicts with First Amendment protections. Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion agreed. The collection of agency fees, he wrote, "violates the free speech rights of non-members by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern." Nearly all union political spending supports the Democratic Party or liberal causes. Some workers are thus compelled to subsidize and thereby affiliate with a highly political organization with which they disagree.

Unions offer a remedy to workers who don't want to support their political positions, but it is cumbersome. They must renounce their membership, write a letter annually to opt out of political spending, and then wait for the union to send them a check for the percentage of their agency fees it says it spent on politics.

Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion rejected that solution. The problem is that the onus is on dissenting workers to ensure the protection of their First Amendment rights. They must write opt-out letters (often year after year) or risk underwriting union political activity they oppose. The opinion called the process "daunting."

The Janus case also underscored the inherent problems of giving public-sector unions the power to unilaterally decide what constitutes spending on politics versus collective bargaining. Justice Alito argued that the "line" between the two "has proved impossible to draw with precision" and resulted in endless litigation. In the private sector, unions bargain with employers and direct their political activity at the government. But in the public sector, unions' political activity cannot be separated from collective bargaining because both concern the government.

The subjects of negotiations -- employee pay, benefits, work rules -- are political questions about how to spend tax dollars and best provide public services. So, unions' demands for better pay and benefits are, in effect, political positions that nonmembers are forced to underwrite.

Posted by at June 27, 2018 1:22 PM