This Labor Day, Unions Are Gunning for Workers' Free Speech Rights
By Tyler O'Neil
September 2, 2019
Today, Americans enjoy a day off of work to celebrate Labor Day, a
holiday commemorating the organized labor movement. Unions did indeed
secure important rights for American workers, including the idea of a
weekend including Saturday and Sunday. Yet organized labor is
horrifically corrupt today. Workers who refuse to join a union because
they disagree with the union's political stance were forced to pay fees
to the union, anyway until the Supreme Court defended workers' free
speech last year. Now, unions and their political allies are fighting to prevent workers from leaving the unions and from opting out of paying
A new report from the Commonwealth Foundation revealed that government
unions and their political allies are pushing legislation across the
country that cements unions' power to compel workers to support their political agendas. Many workers have resorted to filing lawsuits in
order to escape the unions' grasp.
"This report warns that a Supreme Court decision is in danger of being undermined by politically savvy actors at the state level," Charles
Mitchell, president and CEO for the Commonwealth Foundation, explained
in a statement Friday. "Advocates for workers cannot rest on their
laurels and expect public employees newly-restored rights to be
respected. States must pass laws that enforce and protect the Janus
In Janus v. AFSCME (2018), the U.S. Supreme Court defended the free
speech of Mark Janus, an Illinois child support staffer who refused to
join the local union, AFSCME Council 31. While he did not have to pay
dues, the union still forced him to pay "agency fees" a large portion
of union dues on the theory that he benefits from the union's
bargaining. Janus objected, saying he did not want to support the union financially. He argued that "this is a gross violation of my First
Amendment Rights to free speech and freedom of association."
Supreme Court Deals Severe Blow to Public Unions
AFSCME defended the agency fees, insisting that they were not political.
Yet AFSCME Council 31 spent $268,855 for "Convention expense" in 2016,
taking this from the funds gathered by "non-political" agency fees. The
AFSCME convention in 2016 featured a lengthy "AFSCME FOR HILLARY"
program, complete with a Hillary Clinton speech. On the very first day
of the convention, the union's president led attendees in booing Donald
Trump. On the third day, the convention adjourned early so members could participate in a "TRUMP HOTEL DIRECT ACTION" protest march. The
convention even chartered buses for the protest.
It gets worse, however. Mandatory "agency fees" actually forced one
woman to effectively contribute money used to attack her husband's
political campaign! Deborah Nearman, a public employee in Oregon,
refused to join SEIU 503 because she opposes the union's political
positions Nearman is a pro-life Catholic and the SEIU 503 funds
In 2016, the SEIU forced her to pay $1,258.91. She fought to opt out,
and received a refund of $273.68. That year, her husband, Mike Nearman,
ran for State Representative. He won the election, but the union spent
$53,260 against him. The union also ran political ads against him that
his wife described as "disgusting."
As an aside, SEIU 503 recently endorsed the radical Green New Deal,
which aims to change the entire economy and would cost at least $250,000
per household in the first five years.
As unions are no longer forcing non-members to pay "agency fees,"
organized labor has lost a great deal of money. Many union members who reluctantly joined the union since they would have to pay fees anyway
are also choosing to leave, now that they have the option of refusing to
pay any money at all. According to the Freedom Foundation, unions in California, Oregon, and Washington State lost approximately 25,000
members in the first six months after Janus, which will bleed them about
$20 million per year.
Unions responded with a legislative blitz, and more than 100 pro-union
bills were introduced this year, attempting to maintain the unions' stranglehold over workers. According to the Commonwealth Foundation, 21
states earned a "D" or "F" grade for worker freedom. These states
either: provide non-member fee workarounds; expand union privileges like taxpayer-funded union work; provide employees' private information to
unions to facilitate organizing; unionize new classes of workers without
their knowledge or consent; or require automatic dues collection using a public resource.
In response, workers have filed more than 70 Janus-related lawsuits,
seeking to escape unions and recoup mandatory agency fees. Nearly half
of these have been filed in California and Pennsylvania.
"More workers are realizing that their unions leadership is acting for themselves rather than for workers," Mitchell, the Commonwealth
Foundation president, added. "Our friends and neighbors in public
service shouldnt have to sue to have the same rights as you and I. This
report highlights the need for lawmakers across the country to rise
above union executives resources and influence and prioritize whats best
Last week, the National Right to Work Foundation filed a class-action
lawsuit against Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) for enforcing restrictions
created by AFSCME Council 11, attempting to keep state employees from
stopping union dues payments. The union only allows workers to opt out
of paying during a brief "escape period" once every three years at the
end of the union's bargaining contract. AFSCME 11 is preventing tens of thousands of state workers from escaping the forced endorsement of the
union's political speech.
"Over a year ago the US Supreme Court ruled that public employees
financial support of union activities must be completely voluntary, but
the state of Ohio continues to enforce illegal union policies that
violate the clear standards laid out in the Janus decision," Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, said in a statement. "Governor DeWine and Attorney General Yost should move quickly to stop
this widespread violation of the First Amendment rights of Ohio public
sector workers and cease collecting union dues from any worker who has
not affirmatively consented to pay dues."
Most of the growing unions are public-sector unions, representing
government employees against local, state, and national governments.
Both Janus and Nearman were government employees in such unions. Even
the notoriously liberal President Franklin Delano Roosevelt opposed the
idea of public-sector unions, because they involve bargaining against
the American people.
Unions played an important role in American history, but their current activism is corrupt. Not only do the major unions overwhelmingly support
the Democratic Party, but they also are fighting tooth and nail to
prevent workers from expressing their First Amendment rights to opt out
of supporting their political positions.
Whatever their political views, Americans should oppose the corruption
of these unions. Workers should not be compelled to donate funds to
political causes they oppose.
... Never share a foxhole with anyone braver than you are.
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