A ruling against the unions in Janus could break their exorbitant grip on Illinois, California and New York.
Blue-state Democrats have denounced last year’s tax reform as a partisan attack. Thanks to the new $10,000 cap on deductions for state and local taxes, households in places like California and New York will soon feel the stinging cost of big government. This will make raising taxes more difficult, which is why politicians are lamenting that the cap will limit their fiscal flexibility.
The U.S. Supreme Court may soon ride to the rescue. On Monday the justices will hear arguments in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. If the court rules against government labor unions, as most observers expect, state and local politicians will gain much more control over their budgets, and they will be under less pressure to toe the union line.
The question in Janus is whether it is constitutional that government employees who have decided not to join a union are still required to pay “agency fees.” Under federal law, workers cannot be forced to join a union. But laws in 22 states say that nonmembers must nonetheless pay unions a fee to cover the cost of collective bargaining and contract administration. The difference usually isn’t much. The agency fee at issue in Janus totals 78% of full union dues.
The unions justify agency fees with the dubious premise that what they do at the bargaining table is somehow apolitical, even though their negotiations cover everything from the structure of retirement benefits to teacher tenure. “The problem is that everything that is collectively bargained with the government is within the political sphere, almost by definition,” Justice Antonin Scalia remarked during oral arguments in a 2016 case. This line of reasoning leads to the conclusion that imposed agency fees violate the First Amendment—that employees who oppose the union’s goals cannot be compelled to support speech with which they disagree.
Daniel DiSalvo is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, an associate professor of political science at the City College Of New York (CUNY), and author of Government Against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences (Oxford Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter here.
Stephen Eide is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.