Ruling dropping union worker dues requirement overdue

Last week, in the case of Janus v. AFSCME, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it is a violation of the First Amendment for public sector unions to force all public employees – whether union members or not – to pay agency fees that support union activities.

It’s about time.

Pennsylvania is not a Right-to-Work state, one of 22 of them. As such, the forced payment of agency fees by non-union members has been freeing up other public sector union money to engage in political activity.

Since 2007, Pennsylvania public sector unions have spent at least $115 million in dues and PAC money for lobbying and election-related matters.

We don’t really care what causes or candidates that money has gone for – it simply should not be the province of public sector unions to use the money of workers to do their political bidding. That’s supposed to be an individual right and privilege in this country.

We believe the Supreme Court ruling helps increase the amount of fairness to our political system.

The ruling overturned 40 years of precedent and impacts 330,000 public employees in Pennsylvania and 5 million nationwide. The ruling removes the possibility of a worker being fired for refusing to give part of a paycheck to a private, political organization. Don’t laugh. Prior to last week’s ruling, such action could easily be accomplished without much legal challenge.

Mark Janus, an Illinois government worker, had argued – and the court agreed – that forcing government workers to support a union’s political activities violates workers’ constitutional rights.

In Pennsylvania, the ruling means teachers, public safety officers, and other government workers could soon choose whether to pay a union without the fear of fines or firing. But the Janus ruling isn’t self-enforcing. Another legal step must be taken to apply the court’s decision in Pennsylvania.

Four public school teachers filed a lawsuit last year against the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. While the court’s decision in Janus gives government workers grounds to assert their First Amendment rights, this case could be the vehicle that enforces the decision in the Keystone State.

As far as the impact of the Janus ruling on government unions themselves, most states already recognize workers’ rights to pay or not pay a union and unions still operate in those states. But unions will represent workers more fairly when workers can vote with their wallets on union priorities.

And that’s a good thing. Coercion of any kind is not welcome in the workplace, including Pennsylvania.