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Union execs learned the wrong lessons from Janus

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Newsflash: You don’t own the American worker.

That’s the message the Supreme Court sent to government union leaders in last year’s Janus v. AFSCME decision. Mark Janus sued because his union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was forcing him to subsidize its politics. His victory restored First Amendment rights to millions of workers.

But instead of taking the court’s ruling to heart, union executives have doubled down on divisiveness. 

Despite their members’ ideological diversity, 90 percent of union election spending goes to Democrats, according to the Center for Union Facts. And a myriad of left-wing causes — from abortion provider Planned Parenthood to the Clinton Foundation to Drag Queen Story Hour — are funded by the dues of teachers, bus drivers and social workers. No wonder many union members feel alienated by union politics.

That’s why Janus was such a big deal: It freed government workers to make their own choices about funding union officials’ pet political and social causes. 

In response, union leaders should have toned down the politics and focused on providing valuable services to their members. But apparently they haven’t learned their lesson. Instead, they’re stuck in the past, treating individual workers like dollar signs and acting as if workers’ opinions are irrelevant.

Case in point: At the state level, the union brass are exploiting every loophole to block union members’ resignations, siphon dues and invade workers’ privacy, as outlined in a recent 50-state public-sector labor report from the Commonwealth Foundation in Pennsylvania. Our report uncovers a chilling pattern: Over the past year, everywhere unions have a foothold in state government they’re ramming through bills that hurt workers.

For example, in California, new laws prevent workers from recouping the “fair share” fees charged before the Janus ruling. In Rhode Island, a legal loophole allows public-sector unions to keep charging non-members similar fees. Lawmakers is Massachusetts and Oregon approved legislation that will give away workers’ private information, such as cell phone numbers and home addresses, to union organizers.

Union lobbyists are running roughshod over worker freedom on their own blue-state turf. And even in “purple” states, such as my home state of Pennsylvania, union leaders still are exploiting public-sector workers — the Janus decision be damned. Earlier this year, state hospital worker William Neely was forced to sue for the right to resign union membership.

That’s just one of more than 70 Janus-related lawsuits filed by public workers across the country. Union officials like to tout the strength of their membership rolls, but they’re locking workers in, “losing” the keys and forcing workers to sue to defend their rights.

Pennsylvania union leaders also have been caught lying to workers about their rights and are blocking legislation that would remove state laws ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

State and national unions have taken a similar tack against rebellious local unions. As former public school teacher Keith Williams has pointed out, many locals want to disaffiliate from their parent unions — retaining their collective bargaining rights and ditching the abrasive political agendas, while paying a fraction of the dues. But state and national umbrella unions such as the National Education Association (NEA) don’t believe in local control: They’re cracking down with restrictive new bylaws to prevent locals from leaving.

At the federal level, union officials have pulled out all the stops, introducing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would, among other favors to Big Labor, invalidate right-to-work laws — mandating that private-sector workers pay the very union fees now banned for public-sector workers.

By tightening their stranglehold, unions are undermining the only true asset they possess — not dues money, but the voluntary goodwill of their members. No public employee wants to feel owned.

Cracking down on workers’ rights will hurt unions in the long run, financially and reputationally. Unless union leaders pivot to serving their members’ needs, rather than promoting a one-sided political agenda, government employees will rebel — and more dues-paying members and local unions will slip through their fingers.

Jennifer Stefano is vice president and chief innovation officer at the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferStefano.

Tags Janus v. AFSCME Labor relations Right-to-work law union fees

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