Janus v AFSCME

By: The James Madison Institute / 2018



The Nation Follows Florida’s Right-To-Work Lead

By: Connor James

Florida led the way, and the nation has finally followed. On June 27, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision that prevents public sector unions from forcing non-union workers to pay fees if they choose not to.[i] The decision also went even further to say that not only do workers have a choice, but the default cannot be that they automatically have dues deducted and must pursue a refund if they want to opt out. Workers who do want to support the union must opt in. It was in 1943 that Florida passed the first right-to-work legislation,[ii] some 75 years before the Supreme Court decided on this case. The perception of this case has been largely partisan given the impact it may have on union membership, yet this should not be a partisan issue, nor should it be construed as a case about unions and their existence.

In Illinois, where this case originated, public employees must pay union fees, even if they do not agree with the positions taken by the union.[iii] In Janus v. AFSCME, Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion for the Court, writing that the Illinois law “violates free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”[iv] In the years following Florida’s creation of right-to-work legislation, a total of 28 states have done the same. After this ruling, all public-sector union members will have the same freedoms that those in Florida have enjoyed.

A look to Florida’s Constitution highlights the non-divisive nature of the ruling. Article 1 Section 6 of Florida’s Constitution says, “The right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or non-membership in any labor union or labor organization.”[v] Not only does Florida constitutionally ensure that persons working are not forced to join a labor union, but it also protects those who do wish to join a labor union. It simply provides members of our state with the uninterrupted right-to-work. Now, American public sector union workers across the country will enjoy this right, and will be protected to pursue their careers.

Americans being forced to pay union fees will finally get to keep the money they rightfully earned. Those living in states without right-to-work laws have been taken advantage of, and they unfortunately have had their money unconstitutionally stripped from their pockets. As Justice Alito said in writing in the majority opinion, “It is hard to estimate how many billions of dollars have been taken from nonmembers and transferred to public-sector unions in violation of the First Amendment. Those unconstitutional exactions cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.”[vi] Thankfully, this ruling re-instates the First Amendment rights for five million workers in 22 non-right to work states that can count themselves as equal under the law with those of us here in Florida and other states that have enjoyed these freedoms for some time. They are no longer forced to pay for advocacy they do not support.

This ruling is not a partisan one, and arguments citing that it may be should be subsequently invalidated by the United States Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees the rights to freedom of speech and association, and this case is a clear example of overreach in forcing hardworking Americans to turn over a portion of their paycheck for union dues. The right-to-work should always be protected, and no American from any state should be forced to pay a union as a condition of employment.

This is a case about protecting our constitutional rights. Over 230 years ago, our Founding Fathers ensured the freedoms and rights of future Americans, and this was a ruling that they would have been proud of.

Connor James is a student at the George Washington University majoring in Political Science and is interested in international relations, economics, and data analysis. Connor is an intern at the James Madison Institute.