Congratulations to Mark Janus, The Liberty Justice Center, and all those who won a big victory for worker freedom earlier this week.
If there is hope that Illinois will recover from financial disaster, weak job growth, record-high taxes and massive population loss, the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME ruling is a good first step on that path to recovery.
The plaintiff in the case, Mark Janus, is a child support specialist who works for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Janus challenged the mandatory “fair share” fees he was forced to pay AFSCME Council 31, as a condition of his employment with the state. The Supreme Court ruled that public workers shouldn’t be forced to pay fees to a union they don’t want to join, or don’t wish to support due to its inherent political activity.
As a result of the Supreme Court decision, approximately 370,000 government workers in Illinois—and millions more across the country—have had their First Amendment right restored.
The decision is not only a win for free speech for public employees across the country, but it also has potential to be a win for Illinois taxpayers, who have long borne the burden of exorbitant pension and benefit costs negotiated between organized labor leaders and their political allies in Springfield.
Public sector pensions currently consume more than a quarter of the state budget. In addition to generous retirement packages, Illinois state employees have the second-highest salaries in the nation, when adjusted for cost of living. Employees also get automatic pay raises, overtime, and heavily subsidized health care plans.
All of this has contributed to massive public debt, the nation’s worst credit rating, state and local taxes that are among the highest in the nation, and a mass exodus of residents.
As Justice Alito wrote in the Court’s majority opinion, when the state tried to negotiate with AFSCME on cost-saving proposals to address the financial crisis, “the union countered with very different suggestions.”
“Among other things, it advocated wage and tax increases, cutting spending ‘to Wall Street financial institutions,’ and reforms to Illinois’ pension and tax systems (such as closing ‘corporate tax loopholes,’ ‘expanding the base of the state sales tax,’ and ‘allowing an income tax that is adjusted in accordance with ability to pay’). To suggest that speech on such matters is not of great public concern—or that it is not directed at the ‘public square’ is to deny reality,” Alito wrote.
If members have the option to drop out of AFSCME and other public-sector unions, that means the unions will need to do a better job representing their members, or members will drop out, leaving less money and less political clout for the unions. This will shake the status quo in Springfield, and hopefully prevent some of the tax-and-spend policies that are driving Illinois deeper in debt.
Despite what you may hear from the media, the political class, and the unions themselves, the Janus v. AFSCME ruling won’t bring an end to government union power in Illinois.
The unions will still be able to collect dues from members, represent workers, go on strike, and bargain over wages, hours and other conditions of employment. Workers who want to maintain their union membership will be free to do so. The only difference now is that government unions will have to earn the support from their members, and government workers now have the same rights as everyone else.