Last week, the president of the largest government union in America authored an opinion piece in which he sought to convince readers that it’s okay for unions to force workers to pay dues against their will, even when those dues are spent on political activity.
Because the actual purpose of his piece was so absurd, Lee Saunders spent most of it talking not about that issue but about others like collective bargaining benefits and unrelated policy questions. I responded accordingly, spelling out the facts of the core issue at hand.
My response led Saunders to hit back in the Huffington Post with another round of talking points and left-wing dog whistles, so it is important to set the record straight again in these pages.
Right-to-work laws simply state that no one can be fired for refusing to join or pay a union as a condition of employment. Twenty-eight states have passed these common-sense bills — including six in the past six years — and voters unsurprisingly rewarded lawmakers who did so.
Now, a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court could extend that protection to every public employee in America.
Workers already have the right to opt out of union political spending on candidates and parties. (That workers must “opt out” rather than unions receiving “opt in” permission for political spending is absurd, but a separate issue). As union leaders themselves have stated, this protection against forced political spending is long-standing and noncontroversial.
The reason Janus v. AFSCME is pending before the Supreme Court is that union politics don’t end at PAC spending. In government, even the so-called “collective bargaining representation” fees that workers in 22 states are required to pay are spent on political activity, and so the court is poised to extend the right against forced payment to that portion, as well.
In the public sector, collective bargaining is inherently political, as it deals with questions involving taxpayer dollars. This includes items as benign as the paid time-off Saunders references, or the pension plans that have states facing $5.6 trillion in unfunded liabilities.
Aside from misunderstanding the “political speech” question, the other primary rebuttal to right-to-work and Janus is that workers who opt out of the union still benefit from representation. But unions are free to represent paying members only.
Saunders denies this inconvenient truth, but provides no evidence. In reality, the Supreme Court upheld members-only union contracts in Consolidated Edison Co v. NLRB (1938) and in Retail Clerks v. Dry Lion Goods (1962), and many unions utilize them willingly today.
If two Supreme Court rulings and several real-life examples aren’t enough, there is also a new policy proposal that would codify the right of unions to represent members only. I’ll expect AFSCME’s endorsement of such legislation any day now.
Over two op-eds, Saunders never once explains what right-to-work or Janus are actually about. His position on these questions is indefensible, so he opts instead for baseless hysterics.
Reasonable people can disagree on taxes or health policy, but they cannot disagree on facts. Far from crippling unions, strangling public services, or allowing the rich to hoard wealth, states with right-to-work laws have seen greater growth in union membership, tax revenue, and worker wages. And workers’ rights to bargain collectively are unaffected.
Union membership has been cut in half since 1983. People are fleeing union-controlled states by the thousands. And voters are overwhelmingly rejecting the union political agenda. The “right wing” did not force any of these things to happen. Free people chose to do so themselves, and now union bosses are grasping at coercion — truly “rigging the game” — to rescue their political clout and exorbitant salaries.
Perhaps Saunders wouldn’t have to worry so much if he spent more time respecting the concerns of workers like Mark Janus and less time disparaging them.
Akash Chougule is the director of policy at Americans for Prosperity.
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