Freedom of choice hasn’t hurt public-employee unions in Illinois.
A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court put an end to compulsory dues payments by nonmembers of public employee labor unions.
The court’s controversial 5-4 decision terminated public unions’ long-held legal authority to charge nonmembers what were called “fair share” dues that supposedly covered the costs of collective bargaining. Critics persuasively argued that, in reality, those “fair share” dues covered legitimate union representation costs, plus a lot more.
In its ruling, the high court majority said that requiring nonmembers to financially support and subsidize union political activities they did not back violated their free-speech rights.
Some suggested at the time the ruling represented a body blow to public employee unions in all 50 states because it meant they could no longer forcibly extract millions of dollars in annual payments from nonmembers.
While an obvious financial setback, the high court’s ruling in Janus vs AFSCME hasn’t proved to be the major problem for the public unions some predicted.
Why? “Fair share” nonmember contributors represented a small percentage of contributors — the vast majority of union members see a benefit in being represented by and voluntarily paying dues to AFSCME.
So it should be no surprise that a year after Janus, the facts show public employee unions, at least in Illinois, are prospering, even though public employees once forced to contribute no longer have to do so. Indeed, AFSCME recently negotiated a contract with Gov. J.B. Pritzker that is surprisingly generous considering that Illinois is, for all practical purposes, bankrupt.
Recent news accounts indicate that membership in Illinois government unions “actually has increased” in the aftermath of the Janus ruling.
At the same time, the Illinois Policy Institute, a foe of compulsory unionization, estimates “more than 8,000 government workers” represented by AFSCME no longer are “sending money” to the union while another 6,800 public employees stopped payments to the Illinois Federation of Teachers.
If both sides are exercising freedom of choice in the aftermath of Janus vs AFSCME, some might think each would be happy.
They would be wrong. Union leaders, like those at AFSCME, remain angry that they cannot compel nonmembers to continue to pay.
They complain nonmembers benefit from the bargaining agreements negotiated with management, and they have a point. Nonmembers do enjoy pay and benefits negotiated in collective bargaining. At the same time, although the unions denied it, nonmembers also were required to subsidize political activities and goals they did not necessarily support.
The Supreme Court’s ruling came as a major disappointment to unions like AFSCME because it meant they were no longer able to rely on coercion — gentle or otherwise — to generate income. Instead, the court’s ruling impels them to prove their worth by demonstrating their value to members. So far, that is a goal public employee unions are having no trouble achieving.