A Time for Choosing: The End of Forced Union Representation

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in favor of Mark Janus, making it unconstitutional for union leaders to compel public employees to pay “fair share fees”.

In anticipation of this decision, union-backed lawmakers in Sacramento have been pushing bills to limit the freedom of government employees to choose whether they can be represented by unions.

Think of these rules as the legislative weapons of the self-declared California Resistance – the reaction of the state’s Democratic super-majority to the November 2016 election victory of Donald Trump. Among the first bills aimed at protecting government union leaders was Senate Bill (SB) 285, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2017. This “union organizing bill” prevents public employers from “deterring or discouraging” their employees to “become or remain a member of an employee organization.” This law authored by state Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) is a clear restriction of free speech as it outlaws public employers from saying anything to its employees that would suggest they have options outside of joining a union.

Enacted that same month, state Sen. Richard Pan’s SB 550 would reimburse unions for their attorney fees whether they win or lose in legal disputes with a public employer. If union leaders sue a public employer over Janus and lose, they’ll walk away without having spent a dime.

Assembly Bill AB 1937, which was re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee in June, requires public employers to grant without question the demand of union leaders to collect payroll deductions or fees from non-union members. Introduced by Los Angeles Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, AB 1937 strips employers and employees of the right to determine whether the union can skim paychecks for dues. As Matt Patterson of the California Policy Center says, “public unions have been operating like racketeering syndicates for decades.”

AB 2154, which is still in the Public Employees, Retirement, and Social Security Committee, would allow union representatives to take “reasonable time” off for union activities – but still get paid. These “ghost workers” would be subsidized by taxpayers. Then, too, there’s the vagueness: What does reasonable time-off mean? At this point, union-backed Democrats are just molding the law for the convenience of their donors.

The unions may lose at the Supreme Court, but union leaders are doing everything they can to make sure they keep winning in California. How ironic that the same people who claim to fight for worker rights are actively suppressing worker freedom.

Kelly McGee is a summer research assistant at the California Policy Center and can be reached at kelly@calpolicycenter.org

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