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Explore our coverage of government and politics.

McClaughry: The Janus Case

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down “agency fees” taken by public sector unions from non-members’ paychecks. In the Janus ruling, Justice Alito wrote, “The First Amendment does not permit the government to compel a person to pay for another party’s speech just because the government thinks that the speech furthers the interests of the person who does not want to pay.”

The Vermont State Employees Association and the Vermont-NEA teachers union are the most prominent of Vermont’s public sector unions – and they’re still entitled to organize and bargain with state government, school districts, and municipalities.

The resulting contracts will still cover wages, benefits, working conditions and grievance procedures for all employees in the defined bargaining unit. But they can no longer automatically pocket “agency fees” (of as much as 85% of full union dues) from employees who want no part of the union’s political activities.

And the Janus ruling inevitably means that more workers will decide not to pay money to a union advocating against their own political preferences. Alana Semuels writes in 'The Atlantic' that some unions are responding to this development by re-conceptualizing their relation to prospective members.

When an earlier Supreme Court ruling struck down agency fees payable to the United Domestic Workers, which represents Medicaid-funded home health care workers in California, its executive director, Doug Moore, noted that UDW would now have to “prove it was providing a valuable service to members and their clients that went above and beyond bargaining over pay.”

So it launched a home-care registry that matched workers with potential employers, and started offering free CPR classes and classes to discuss with workers how to feed clients with special dietary needs. It did all this and more on a budget that was 30 percent lower than what it had been before the [Court] decision.

Not surprisingly, VSEA and Vermont-NEA are distressed about the impact of the Janus case. But perhaps the ruling will push those unions, like UDW, to better market their services to attract members who see an advantage in belonging.

It’s also likely to reduce the union’s inclination to use union funds to advance causes that a significant number of prospective union members do not support .

Putting an end to collaborating with government to coerce non-members to pay fees to finance political activities they may find offensive, may in the end, be much healthier for the unions.

John McClaughry is founder and vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute, a Vermont policy research and education organization.
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