The Janus decision and teacher freedom: One year later
What has happened, what hasn’t happened, and why.
On June 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government workers no longer had to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment, and the ensuing hysteria was a sight to behold. Loopy headlines like “How The Supreme Court’s Janus Decision Could Cripple Public Sector Unions” and “The Roberts Court Protects the Powerful for a New Gilded Age” were commonplace. But one year out, the apocalypse-is-nigh scenarios have failed to materialize. In fact, the unions are crowing that they are in fine shape, thank you. More commonly now, headlines read, “So much for the labor movement’s funeral.”
The teachers unions, especially, have barely suffered as a result of the Janus ruling. While the fee payers – those teachers who had quit the union but were still forced to pay dues – are gone, few others have left the union fold. According to Mike Antonucci, the National Education Association has actually had a one percent increase in membership in calendar 2018. Part of the reason for this is that, suspecting the Supreme Court would decide for worker freedom, the unions made a concerted effort to hang on to members by trying to get them, prior to the Janus decision, to “recommit.”
There is a much bigger reason for the non-drop off in membership, however. As revealed by a stunning new national poll commissioned by the Teacher Freedom Project, 77 percent of teachers have never even heard of the Janus case and 52 percent don’t know that they are no longer required to pay a union to keep their teaching job.
Additionally, for teachers who have decided to leave, the unions have thrown up roadblocks, employing “trap language” to keep their members captive. For example, a teacher in San Francisco 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 would be hard-pressed to remember her anniversary date – and her union just may decide not to give her that information.) In Las Vegas, you must quit between July 1st and July 15th or you, too, are stuck paying dues for another year. At this time, there are lawsuits all over the country challenging this bit of union chicanery.
The unions also like to instill fear into teachers about their post-union life, and too many teachers buy into it lock, crock and barrel. The poll shows that teachers have no idea about many of their professional benefits. Almost a third erroneously think that they would not be covered by their union’s collective bargaining unit contract should they quit. Almost a quarter think they’d lose their tenure protections, and 18 percent think they’d lose their health insurance – both untrue. The unions either foster or ignore teacher ignorance on these matters.
While 70 percent of teachers are aware that they would lose their liability insurance provided by the union should they leave, how many know that by joining the Association of American Educators or Christian Association Educators International that they can get better coverage at a much lower cost?
In the Golden State, 1984-style laws have been passed by the legislature at the behest of the California Teachers Association. AB 119 tilts the playing field heavily in favor of the unions when it comes to recruiting rookies. When Janus was looming, legislators enacted the law which stipulates that a public employer must give the union the “name, job title, department, work location, work, home, and personal cellular telephone numbers, personal email addresses on file with the employer, and home address of any newly hired employee within 30 days of the date of hire….” and requires them to attend a mandatory union “orientation” meeting, during which the captive audience is harangued about the joys of union membership.
And then there is the equally one-sided SB 866, which specifies that public employers cannot “deter or discourage public employees, or applicants, from becoming or remaining members of employee organizations.” The bill also prohibits employers from disclosing the date/time/place of the new employee orientation “to anyone other than employees, the exclusive bargaining representative, and a vendor who is contracted to provide a service at the new employee orientation.”
It’s clear that the unions are furiously finagling to preserve their power and cash flow, and part of their strategy is to keep teachers clueless about their rights. But Janus, at a year old, is not even a toddler yet. While Michigan became a right-to-work state in 2012, the law didn’t go into effect until the end of 2013; there was no rush to the exits there either, but rather a steady membership loss over time. In fact, in the ensuing years, the Michigan Education Association has experienced a 28 percent decline in membership.
For teachers to make an informed decision about union membership, the information gap needs to be addressed. Too many teachers are unaware that they can leave the union, and don’t know the consequences of their departure. To that end, the California Policy Center, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Freedom Foundation, TeacherFreedom.org, For Kids and Country, MyJanusRights.org, the California Teachers Empowerment Network, et al. are working diligently to get the facts to teachers about union membership.
As Colin Sharkey, executive director of the Association of American Educators, notes, “Until every educator in the country knows their rights and options, we cannot know the full impact of Janus v. AFSCME. For now, we must keep working to provide as many educators as possible with clear and straightforward information about their newly restored rights.”
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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.