The headline of an Education Week op-ed by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), states the Supreme Court’s ruling that public sector unions can no longer compel nonmembers to pay fees “only makes us angrier.”
Referring to the high court’s decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council as one in which the plaintiffs “weaponized the First Amendment from its original purpose of securing the political freedom necessary for democracy by arguing compulsory union fees violated free speech,” Weingarten wrote, however, that reports of the death of unions “have been greatly exaggerated.”
The teachers’ union leader boasts her union has actually grown by a quarter million members within the last decade, garnering AFT 1.75 million members – “our largest membership ever.”
“In the face of right-wing attacks on public education and labor, we have come to understand that when we walk the walk with the community, we become exponentially more powerful,” she said, referring to how unions have joined forces with other progressive causes.
Weingarten asserted before a Democratic Policy and Communications Committee meeting on Tuesday the Janus decision is now energizing unions.
In fact, unions have actually been busy planning ahead for a likely loss of membership and funds from the high court’s decision.
It turned out the Janus ruling did much more than ban the collection of agency fees from nonmembers. Critical to unions as well is the ruling’s statement that workers must “opt in” to the union and pay dues as a result, rather than “opt out” of paying dues.
As the Washington Examiner reports, unions in states such as New York, New Jersey, Washington, Maryland, and California are securing legislation that will make it difficult for public workers to stop their personal funds from being paid to unions.
In New York, for example, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a budget bill that allows unions to create their own “opt-out” rules.
“The new law allows unions to require departing employees to make a separate election to stop dues deductions during a short window once a year,” reports the Examiner. “If an employee fails to comply or misses the window, he could be paying dues for years after leaving the union.”
In Washington, legislation was also passed that requires employers to provide unions with home addresses and personal cell phone numbers of employees, and to guarantee the union a 30-minute private meeting with new workers to persuade them to join the union. Similar legislation is under consideration in New York and Maryland.
Vincent Vernuccio, a senior fellow with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy – a free-market think tank – referred to the guaranteed meetings with new workers “captive-audience meetings.”
Vernuccio said the unions are strategizing “in order to trap public employees into paying them,” he told Education Week.
“The Supreme Court may have to take up another case … on the New Jersey or New York laws to say, ‘Yes, we really mean it; you can’t force people to pay for politics they disagree with, and you can’t trap them in [the union],’” he added. “I think it’s ripe for litigation in the future.”