Politics

Scrutinizing Public Unions' Contributions to Democrats

The Supreme Court is taking up a key case that involves using workers' dues to fund one political party.

Lewis Morris · Oct. 4, 2017

A pivotal case will be heard before the Supreme Court this term that could have major ramifications for public-sector labor unions in the United States. Janus v. AFSCME focuses on whether Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee, should have to pay union dues to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The larger issue at play is whether employees should be forced to pay into a union that uses its members’ money to support political stances they oppose. And let’s face it, if you are in a public-sector union in this country, then you better be prepared to support Democrats.

In theory, unions collect dues from members in order to bargain collectively on their behalf, provide financial support to members during work stoppages or strikes, and administer to the broader organization that seeks to improve the lot of union members.

In practice, particularly with public-sector unions, dues that are collected feed the bloated bureaucracy of the union administration and support politicians, namely Democrats, who in turn lobby for better wages and benefits for government employees, which in the end are paid for by taxpayers.

In 1977, the Supreme Court ruled in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that government workers could be forced to pay their share of costs for traditional union activities, but not for political actions. This led to the creation of the agency fee, a rate lower than union dues that was charged to employees who worked under the umbrella of a union but were not members of that union.

Over time in many states, the agency fee became just another tool for public-sector unions to squeeze money out of employees to do what they do best, which is lobby politicians and help fund the Democrat Party. In 2014, the Supreme Court stopped unions from expanding their reach in Harris v. Quinn, which protected home health care aids hired with Medicaid subsidies from having to pay public-sector union dues. In 2016, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association came close to ending the agency fee, but the case was stalled 4-4 after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. Janus is considered to be a worthy successor to that case, and with Neil Gorsuch on the bench, the odds swing in favor of breaking this First Amendment chokehold public-sector unions have over employees.

Naturally, the unions want to paint this as another attack on the working man. Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME, said, “The Janus case is a blatantly political and well-funded plot to use the highest court in the land to further rig the economic rules against everyday working people.”

There is nothing “everyday” about public-sector employees. Thanks to the power grip public-sector unions hold over the federal workforce, public-sector employees are paid, on average, 17% higher than their private-sector counterparts. They receive better benefits, and it is nearly impossible to fire a federal employee, even if they are caught red-handed in blatantly dishonest or illegal activities.

This should be a concern to all Americans. Taxpayers foot the bill for all of this. People continuously voice their displeasure over the poor quality of service they receive from government agencies and how that quality of service seemingly deteriorates every year. Like any worker, federal employees should be held accountable for their performance.

Public-sector unions have shielded federal workers from accountability by growing immensely powerful. One of the ways they have done this is to grow their membership through coercion. This case before the Supreme Court might help bring an end to that practice and bring these all-powerful unions back down to Earth. And that will be better for everyone.

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