Right On: A Labor Day worth celebrating

Composite image. Hand holding money by DjelicS/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

OPINION — Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and transitions, usually depicted as having two faces.

That two-faced depiction is certainly apropos for public employee unions who face a major transition by virtue of the Supreme Court’s recent “Janus” ruling.

No, the Roman god didn’t appear in court. Instead, Mark Janus, an Illinois public employee unwillingly represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, sued the union. Per the union’s contract with the state, Janus was forced to pay the union “agency fees” even though he wasn’t a union member.

At first glance, agency fees seem reasonable. After all, public employee unions bargain for improvements in wages, benefits and working conditions that apply to all workers whether or not they belong to the union. Shouldn’t those who benefit pay for these costs? If they don’t, they’re getting a free ride, right?

The Supreme Court based its decision on the First Amendment’s freedom of speech protections. It ruled that by their very nature, all public employee union activities are political since they bargain with elected officials. Influencing those politicians, or better yet electing those sympathetic to the union’s cause, is political activity.

Janus argued that being forced to support political speech as a condition of his employment violated his constitutional rights.

Agency fees are typically about 80 percent of dues. Prior to the Janus ruling, those fees could be spent on member communications, rallies and conventions. Take a look at just how political those conventions are.

At its national convention, the American Federation of Teachers, substantially funded with agency fees, addressed issues far removed from collective bargaining. The convention passed resolutions supporting single-payer health care, free college tuition and opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline.

It went on urging school districts to provide “diverse” views on ROTC programs by promoting the views of anti-war groups. It considered a resolution condemning Nabisco’s decision to move some cookie production to Mexico. Another resolution called for President Trump’s “immediate resignation or removal.”

Explanations as to why cookies and the ROTC are fundamental parts of the collective bargaining process were not forthcoming.

The blatantly political nature of the AFT convention and similar ones held by almost all other public employee unions is echoed in their member communications and rallies.

The unions claim these activities set the stage for collective bargaining. I couldn’t agree more: politicians and public employee unions are locked in an incestuous relationship. I’ve gone so far as to call public employee unions enemies of the state.

Unions representing private company workers have been in decline for decades. In contrast, public employee unions have been growing, especially where they can elect their supporters to public office. Nothing is quite as rewarding as getting someone elected and then sitting down across the table from them to bargain for wage and benefit improvements at taxpayers’ expense.

One result: over $6 trillion in unfunded state pension liabilities nationwide.

Thanks to Janus, a second egregious public union scam is about to end.

Medicaid pays for in-home health aides who care for disabled beneficiaries. Often these are the children or other family members of elderly parents.

Union-friendly states have declared these family members to be “partial public employees.” As such, they are deemed AFSCME union members without ever having signed up.

Even worse, the Obama administration issued rules saying that union dues could be deducted from the Medicaid payments for these aides. Since pay stubs don’t appear on the payments, in many cases these folks had no idea that they were union members paying union dues.

With the Janus ruling, these aides will still have the option of joining AFSCME, but they can no longer be enrolled automatically without their knowledge. Since their wages are set by Medicaid, not by union bargaining, the motivation to join will be minimal.

So ends another chapter in the cozy relationship between public employee unions and the officials they help elect.

Public employee unions, including teachers’ organizations, can play a useful role as they make elected officials aware of challenges unique to government employees. But credit the Supreme Court for recognizing the conflicts endemic in the public employee bargaining process.

While public employee unions get back to basics, taxpayers have an additional reason to celebrate Labor Day this year.

Howard Sierer is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: hsierer@stgeorgeutah.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • bikeandfish August 30, 2018 at 5:33 pm

    I actually agree with Howard once as I believe the Janus ruling was fair. Calling public unions “enemies of the state” is just ridiculous, inflammatory rhetoric though.

  • Richard August 31, 2018 at 4:29 am

    This year’s Labor Day celebration will be great since Forced Unionism is finally illegal in the public sector, thanks to Mark Janus and his legal team. It’s now time for voluntary union members to get better representation and leadership from their unions, as the status quo just isn’t good enough when so many of today’s unions tend to mostly act like Far-Left political action committees at the members’ expense. If the greedy union/PAC bosses aren’t willing to change, it’s time for voluntary members to quit and let the organizations fail on their own.

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