The Supreme Court of the United States today handed down a landmark decision for freedom of speech and association. It was widely expected that Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee, would win his suit against the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Janus objected to the union’s ideology but was forced to pay thousands of dollars to it under Illinois state law. The Court, in an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, condemned the Illinois law and any policy that forces government workers to pay a union as a condition of employment.
While the decision directly applies only to states without right-to-work laws, the Court repeatedly stressed that when states grant unions exclusive bargaining powers, such a policy “substantially restricts the nonmembers’ rights.” This applies in some right-to-work states with laws granting this “tremendous increase in the power” of government unions. In fact, this is the law for some government workers today in Oklahoma.
An Oklahoma City teacher may object to the American Federation of Teachers support for Planned Parenthood. A teacher in Bartlesville may likewise disagree with the National Education Association’s support for abortion or opposition to guns. They might both oppose the massive tax hikes pushed by both unions. But state law says that while they can opt out of paying union dues, the unions still have the exclusive power to speak for them in employment matters.
As today’s opinion makes clear, all employment matters for public employees are matters of public significance. They are important to individual workers, but also to all citizens, because they inexorably related to how government works. While the Court did not today strike down state laws that give unions this power, it did cast doubt on the wisdom and fairness of such laws. Oklahoma policymakers should take note.