Twenty states are now backing a lawsuit that seeks to overturn a mandatory union membership for public sector employees, arguing that forcing them into paying fees is akin to “the forced subsidization of a political party.”
The states, which are led by Michigan Attorney General – Bill Schuette (R), filed a brief to the Supreme Court in which they voiced their support for the Illinois state worker, Mark Janus’s lawsuit against the American Federation of State, County, and the Municipal Employees – AFSCME. The suit seeks to bar government agencies from requiring union dues or any fee payments as a condition of employment. The states further argue that the Supreme Court had erred in 1977’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which had said that such arrangements were constitutional.
“Amici States have a vital interest in protecting the First Amendment rights of public employees, and in the fiscal health of state and local governments,” the brief reads. “Given the enormous power of the modern public-sector union and the often vast public-policy consequences of its collective bargaining activities, requiring a public employee to subsidize those activities is materially indistinguishable from the forced subsidization of a political party.”
Janus and his co-plaintiffs object to paying any fees to AFSCME because they see it as a compelled political speech. The government, as per their argument, is forcing them in to subsidize a political organization. Janus said after the court had agreed to take the case that he objects to being “forced to pay a group for an association I don’t agree with.”
The states also argue that public sector unions are inherently political organizations, as the bargaining directly affects governmental budgets and compared unions to “lobbyists” for making claims on taxpayer’s money. Unlike private sector unions, the issues of worker wages, benefits, and work rules extend beyond the regular relationship of employer to employee. Union contracts affect how the public policy is set, according to the states.
“It is time to abandon the meaningless distinction between collective bargaining and other political activity,” the brief also says. “When the party on the opposite side of the table is the government, bargaining is unavoidably about the use of public resources and about how elected officials will govern.”
Schuette went on and pointed to the infamous municipal bankruptcies in Detroit and Stockton, California to demonstrate the point. Much of the city’s debt was tied directly into the pension payments and other generous benefits that had brought the city to the brink of a collapse. While the private sector bankruptcy affects workers, investors, and other stakeholders, a government case hits the entire public.
“Issues at the heart of Detroit’s collective bargaining contributed directly and significantly to the City’s financial distress. Detroit’s financial shortfalls and inefficiencies—of which pension and other employment-related debts constituted a large percentage—had an enormous public impact on the people of Detroit, the State of Michigan, and beyond,” the brief added. “The City of Detroit’s dispute with unions about controversial pension fund practices illustrates the direct and far-reaching public consequences of policy topics at the heart of collective bargaining.”
This is not the first high court case about the government unionism. The Supreme Court has deadlocked 4-4 on California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs’s lawsuit that is challenging her teachers union following the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. Janus v. AFSCME has attracted the support of other government workers too. A group of Pennsylvania teachers filed an amicus brief to the court saying they too are forced to pay for the representation that does not reflect their beliefs.
“This Court should favor protecting nonmembers’ First Amendment rights and offer a non-impinged off-ramp to those who disagree with their compelled representatives’ political activities and positions,” the brief says.
Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin joined Michigan State in filing the brief. Those states have the right to work laws, which has prohibited mandatory unionism in the private sector, and are led by their Republican attorney generals.