COMMENTARY: Court ruling a game-changer for mandatory union dues

Until recently, if you were offered a public school teaching position in Delaware you would be mandated to join the Delaware teachers’ union (DSEA). Union dues would automatically be deducted from your paycheck, and unless you “opted out”, monthly contributions to the union Political Action Committee would be deducted as well.

Recently, if you were offered most government job positions in Delaware you would be mandated to join the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Union dues would automatically be deducted from your paycheck.

DSEA and Delaware ASFME used member dues to pour millions of dollars into the campaigns of union-friendly elected officials, mostly Democrats. The intent was that those elected officials would support spending on union compensation and promote better working conditions.

Dr. John Stapleford

The rules of the game changed when the Supreme Court of the U.S. issued a 5-4 ruling on Janus v. AFSCME.

Mark Janus, a Springfield, Illinois social worker, declined to join the Illinois AFSCME union. Mr. Janus did not agree with the political shenanigans in which AFSME was engaged. While pushing for increased pay and benefits, the union advocated for the increased taxes that were submarining the Illinios economy.

The Supreme Court rejected the idea that the unions’ interest in collecting what they called “fair share” fees trumps a nonmember’s First Amendment rights. AFSME argued that Mr. Janus was a “free rider” enjoying the benefits paid for by member dues. Mr. Janus said he was not a free rider to a desired destination, but “more like a person shanghaied for a unwanted voyage.”

Estimates are that 10 percent to 30 percent of workers will choose to leave the public unions over coming months.

Public employee union’s control of Delaware elected state government has succeeded.

In a study of the compensation of Delaware state employees — excluding public safety and teachers — the Delaware Public Policy Institute found that after controlling for education and other factors, that state government employees receive somewhat lower salaries than private sector workers, but benefits that are approximately 53 percent to 102 percent more generous than similar private sector workers.

The most generous benefits to state workers are in pensions, health coverage and retiree health care.

The unions have been so successful that elected officials have swarmed to write checks that they cannot afford. According to studies from a variety of organizations, the state of Delaware has an unfunded health care liability of $7 billion (total annual state spending is $4.4 billion).

Even though state employees are paid with public funds, a decade ago the Delaware General Assembly voted that all records on individual pensions were confidential. The state will not even release individual pension data without names.

DSEA has managed to get the state legislature to erect substantial barriers to the opening of additional charter schools in Delaware, and have thwarted other efforts at increasing school choice. Meanwhile, according to national tests, two-thirds of Delaware’s public school eighth-graders are functionally illiterate in reading and math.

Flush with money and influence, union managements have drifted into advocating progressive positions that are supported by a minority of voters and have little to do with the delivery of state services.

Among these are such policies as the elimination of all migration regulations, free college, and allowing first-graders to declare their gender without parental input.

Ever since the passage of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, conservatives and business owners have argued that coerced payment of union dues is a violation of First Amendment rights. A battle has ensued.

Today, 28 states have Right to Work laws that prevent mandatory union membership as a condition of employment. Court case after court case has been fought.

In the most recent, public unions were prevented from extracting union dues from public funds received by home health-care workers.

Both advocates of closed union shops and free labor markets have strongly held beliefs, and Janus v. AFSCME is another round in the contentious battle.

With union financial campaign support, Democrats have dominated Delaware state government for almost three decades. In order to maintain government spending on employee compensation, the Democrats have been committed to raising taxes.

The Democrats have also stood firmly against school choice.

With cutbacks in union campaign support following a drop in member dues, the pendulum may shift in Dover. The result will hopefully be reduced taxes, improved public education and restored economic growth.

Looking forward, the unions will have to better market the many tangible benefits they offer members, such as legal representation and training.

Dr. John E. Stapleford is chairman of the Caesar Rodney Institute, a Delaware nonprofit organization committed to protecting individual liberty.

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