OPINION: Janus v. AFSCME a win for taxpayers and workplace freedom

Janus v. AFSCME a win for taxpayers and workplace freedom

Orange County Register 


June 27, 2018 at 8:00 pm


June 27, 2018 at 8:39 pm

In a victory for freedom of speech and taxpayers across the country, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Illinois employee Mark Janus on Wednesday.

The 5-4 decision written by Justice Samuel Alito makes clear that public employees should not be compelled to subsidize public sector unions with which they disagree, arguing “this arrangement violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”

Janus, a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, objected to being compelled to pay agency fees to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees even though he disagrees with its activities.

“Government unions have pushed for government spending that made the state’s fiscal situation worse,” he argued in 2016. “How is that good for the people of the state?”

With the U.S. Supreme Court decision, he and conscientious public employees across the country, including here in California will no longer have to hand over money to public sector unions whose activities they disagree with.

While public sector unions across the state are furious that they can no longer compel public employee to pay them “agency fees,” a percentage of regular union dues paid by non-union members ostensibly intended to cover the cost of collective bargaining, the court’s ruling is obviously the right call.

Echoing arguments from Thomas Jefferson that “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhor[s] is sinful and tyrannical,” the court’s decision simply defends public employees from subsidizing activities they object to.

In doing so, the court overruled the 1977 Supreme Court decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which upheld the legality of agency fees.

“Abood was poorly reasoned,” the court determined. “It has led to practical problems and abuse. It is inconsistent with other First Amendment cases and has been undermined by more recent decisions.”

It’s a decision defenders of the freedom of speech and critics of the excesses of public sector unions have awaited for a long time.

The Janus case is virtually a do-over of a challenge made by Orange County teacher Rebecca Friedrichs who objected to having to pay the California Teachers Association. In 2016, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 in her case, with many believing that had Scalia lived, Friedrichs’ challenge would have prevailed given his inclinations.

Following the close Friedrichs decision and the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the court, public sector unions across California and the nation have braced for reductions in union revenues.

The California Teachers Association, for example, reduced its 2018-19 budget by $20 million in anticipation of the Janus decision. CTA has notably been one of the biggest political forces in the state for decades — having spent well over $200 million influencing elections in the first decade of the 2000s alone. Looking at the state of California’s education system, pension obligations and trajectory of taxes and spending, it’s apparent such influence hasn’t been for the best of ordinary Californians.

As such, public sector unions might not like the Janus decision, but anyone who values freedom should applaud the decision.