June 27 marks the one-year anniversary of the landmark Janus v. AFSCME decision by the Supreme Court, which ruled that union fees in the public sector could no longer be extracted from nonconsenting employees.
Mark Janus is a child support specialist in Illinois, where the state government could require its employees to pay fees to a government union as a condition of employment. Janus was forced to pay fees to AFSCME, the union that ostensibly represented him. He disagreed with the union’s political positions, so he contested these fees, which constituted a requirement to pay for political speech with which he disagreed. Understandable, right? Well, not to the government unions, who insist that employees who opt out of paying fees are so-called “free riders.”
In 2015, Janus was chosen as a plaintiff in a case that Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner had filed against AFSCME in the Northern Illinois District Court. The court argued that a previous case dealing with the issue, Abood, was settled law, and dismissed the new case, which eventually made its way up to the Seventh Circuit Court, which also dismissed it on the same grounds. The Supreme Court finally heard the case in 2018, when the justices ruled 5-4 in favor of Janus.
This ruling was a major victory for the freedom of employees, who are now free to join any union they want — more than one union, if they so choose — or, if they are dissatisfied with the quality of their representation, they can choose to not support any union at all without threat of dismissal. The Supreme Court affirmed the idea that no private organization has a preeminent right to any part of the product of an individual’s labor.