Public union defeat delivers victory for free speech, smaller government

We favor repealing any requirement that one must join or pay dues to a union as a condition of government employment.

The U.S. Supreme Court on June 27 that nonunion government employees can no longer be forced to pay fees to public sector unions. The Libertarian Party platform states, “We favor repealing any requirement that one must join or pay dues to a union as a condition of government employment.” This ruling, however, makes a repeal unnecessary.

The court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees overturned a 40-year-old precedent that had allowed unions to force even dissenting government employees to pay agency or “fair share” fees to the union.

The suit was brought by Mark Janus, an employee at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. The court agreed with Janus’s argument that his $45 monthly fee was unconstitutional because he disagreed with the union’s political advocacy that he was forced to fund.

“Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates that cardinal constitutional command, and in most contexts, any such effort would be universally condemned,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion.

In addition to the obvious free speech issue, which served as the rationale for the court’s decision, this helps limit the power of public-sector unions to use government resources.

“When public-sector employees use union power to negotiate with politicians, both benefit in the short run from increasing pay and benefits,” said Libertarian Executive Director Wes Benedict. “The employees earn more and the politicians get reelected. The cost is passed on to the taxpayer. That’s why, on average, public-sector employees are paid more than private-sector employees. Eventually, this practice leads to government bankruptcy.”

To be clear, the Libertarian Party has no problem with private-sector collective bargaining. If private employers agree to wages and benefits that are too expensive, their products and services will probably need to be priced too high for the company to thrive. Market forces provide a self-correcting process that is absent in government labor agreements.

“We support the right of private employers and employees to choose whether or not to bargain with each other through a labor union,” the Libertarian Party platform states.

In this particular case, Janus correctly argued that the union’s “behavior in bargaining does not appreciate the current fiscal crises in Illinois and does not reflect his best interests or the interests of Illinois citizens.” He said that if had the choice, he “would not pay any fees or otherwise subsidize” the union.

The fiscal crisis is particularly acute in Illinois where pensions, mostly negotiated by unions, already eat up 25 percent of the state’s budget, according to Illinois Policy Institute. AFSCME has spent more money on political activities and lobbying over the last 10 years than on representing public employees.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” Benedict said. “Unions extract dues and fees from employees, and have often done this against the will of employees. Unions spend the money to support politicians who approve exorbitant public employee pay and benefits. The taxpayer gets stuck with the bill. Or, if taxpayers resist, the pension promises to employees get broken when the government runs out of cash.”

The Janus decision is also notable because the court rejected stare decisis — “the idea that today’s Court should stand by yesterday’s decisions” — a doctrine that Justice Elena Kagan’s defended in her dissenting opinion.

“It’s not judicial activism if the court reverses bad precedent,” Benedict said. “It’s the proper exercise of judicial responsibility. There’s a lot of bad precedent that needs to be reversed.”