Janus: Hysteria, reality and foggy windows

By Larry Sand
October 9, 2018

The Janus case, which gave public employees a choice whether or not to join a union, elicited apocalyptic proclamations, but the reality – thus far – has been quite different.

“I listened as the right wing launched attack after attack on unions and on what collective bargaining gains for working people, those they serve and their communities. Indeed, Justice Sotomayor nailed the right wing’s argument, pointing out, ‘You’re basically arguing, do away with unions.’” – American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten

“A decision in Janus to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights in the workplace moves us further in the wrong direction.” – California Teachers Association President Eric Heins

“State and local governments that thought fair-share provisions furthered their interests will need to find new ways of managing their workforces.” – SCOTUS Justice Elena Kagan

How The Supreme Court’s Janus Decision Could Cripple Public Sector Unions” – Huffington Post

The Roberts Court Protects the Powerful for a New Gilded Age” – New York Times

The above are just a few of the loopy scenarios envisioned by union leaders and their sympathizers in the media and on the Supreme Court, either just before or right after the Janus v AFSCME decision came down in June. Now 15 weeks down the road, none of the above has been realized. In fact, similar to many others in tone, a recent headline read, “Teachers Union Says Janus Decision Has Strengthened Its Spine.” Among other boasts, Claudia Briggs, a California Teachers Association spokeswoman, asserted that the union does not expect to lose 23,000 members, as predicted.

Somewhere between the earlier delirium and the ensuing chest-puffing lies the truth. While Briggs assertion about CTA’s quit rate may be true, one prominent reason for it is that the unions are making it extremely difficult to leave. For example, in San Francisco a teacher can resign from her union only between 30 and 45 days before the anniversary of the date she signed the membership form. If she misses that window, she is on the hook for another years’ worth of dues. (A teacher who signed up to be a union member 20 or 30 years ago just may not remember her anniversary date and her union just may decide not to give her that information.) In Las Vegas, you must bid adieu between July 1st and July 15th, or you are trapped paying dues for another year.

The unions’ shenanigans are legally tenuous to say the least, and lawsuits will shortly be a-poppin. In fact, just last week the Mackinac Center for Public Policy filed suit against New Jersey’s governor and attorney general, challenging the constitutionality of Assembly Bill A3686 – which was signed into law on May 17th. The issue is with that part of the law that limits a union member’s ability to resign “the 10 days following each anniversary date of their employment.” The Mackinac suit is actually the second; it follows similar litigation  by the Freedom Foundation in Washington state in August.

The other problem with Briggs’ optimism is that it is way too soon to know what the real quit rate will be. Not all teachers who leave the union will do so immediately. Some are cautious, and may wait for others to do so first. When they see that the sky isn’t falling, they very well may follow suit. Michigan became a right-to-work state in 2012, but the law didn’t go into effect until the end of 2013, and there has been a steady drip away from the union since then. As CapCon’s Tom Gantert and Evan Carter wrote last December, “The MEA (Michigan Education Association) has 87,628 active members in 2017, which includes 67,876 teachers and 19,752 education support personnel. This is down from 117,265 active members in 2012.”

So in just four years MEA membership is down about 25 percent.

Will the future see more quitters in Michigan? Will other states be similar? Will the unions manage to hang on to their members? Only time will tell.

A recent poll by Educators for Excellence may be instructive. Only 28 percent of the teachers polled said their union’s stances reflected their views “a great deal.” Another 52 percent said the union only “somewhat” represented them, while the remaining 20 percent said it didn’t reflect their views very much, if at all.

But before we can get a real count of dropouts, the courts will have to step in and eliminate the unions’ ability to force dues from teachers who neglected to become free agents during a narrow union-imposed time frame.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.