7/5 bruce opinion

7/5 bruce opinion

Submitted by on Thu, 07/05/2018 - 12:35

Supreme Court’s decision likely to have major impact on public service unions

During my career as a journalist, I worked only for nonunion shops. When I became an editor in 1966 and, later, a publisher in 1992, I was considered top management, so even if there were a union at the papers for which I worked, I would have been exempt.

In a curious twist of fate, however, I was a union member (United University Professionals) during the 25 years that I was an adjunct instructor for the State University of New York at Oswego.

It was kind of the office joke at the newspaper in Oswego where I was publisher that the boss was a union member. I paid union dues and received rather generous benefits. My retirement is a lot more comfortable because of some of the lifetime benefits I am receiving because of union membership.

That’s why I was able to see both sides on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision against requiring “fair share” payments from nonunion members.

The unions take the position that since they negotiate contracts and benefits that help all employees, all employees should pay union dues.

Those who oppose this view claim that union participation should be voluntary, not mandatory.

The fallout from this court decision can have significant implications. There are teachers in our local districts who are not union members but who have been compelled to contribute a “fair share” payment. Under this ruling, these employees will no longer have to make this contribution if they don’t want to but still enjoy the fruits of union representation.

My guess is that a majority will continue to make the payment, because they know that a strong union will benefit them, too, even if they are not members.

Some employees disagree with the unions’ political support of candidates with whom they do not agree. On principle, they do not want their union dues to help elect candidates with whom they have major philosophical differences.

Many of these employees do not object to making a contribution to advance the other employee-based goals of the unions, which is why I suspect that they will continue to make their “fair share” payments.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize that there are some employees who will see this as a way to save some money and, if you will, “have their cake and eat it, too.” I am sure there are some union members who will give up their membership for the same reason.

I anticipate, however, that leaders of these strong unions, such as the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees and Service Employees International Union, have been already planning strategy in anticipation of this outcome.

PSEA is a great example of how employees support their union. Fewer than 4 percent of the 180,000 teachers in Pennsylvania are not union members. PSEA officials have been among the most aggressive in squeezing benefits, including salary increases, along with health care and pension enhancements and other perks from recalcitrant school boards.

Don’t think union officials are unconcerned about this court decision. They know it will impact their membership and treasuries. What this ultimately will mean is less political involvement because there will be fewer dollars to spend on supporting union-friendly candidates.

After seeing the court ruling, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats.”

For the most part, big unions have supported Democratic candidates. During the 2016 presidential election, Trump targeted the union-friendly Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education court ruling from 1977 and said he would appoint a Supreme Court justice who could turn the tables on the unions.

With the appointment of Neil Gorsuch, this is exactly what happened. Gorsuch was one of the five conservative judges who voted with the majority. The four liberals on the court opposed the ruling.

In a statement, the Democratic National Committee said, “The decision is nothing more than blatant and disgraceful union busting that could slam the door on millions of hardworking Americans trying to make it into and stay in the middle class.”

Writing in the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito, said: “The First Amendment is violated when money is taken from nonconsenting employees for a public-sector union; employees must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them.’’

The plaintiff in the case, Mark Janus, is employed by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services as a child support specialist. Janus refused to join the union (AFSCME) that represents public employees in Illinois because he opposes many of the public policy positions that it advocates.

Under his unit’s collective bargaining agreement, he was required to pay an agency fee of $44.58 per month. Janus asked the Supreme Court to overrule its 1977 decision and hold that public-sector agency-fee arrangements are unconstitutional.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com