The Abood decision has been overturned and its mourners are beside themselves.
The hysterical reaction to the recent Supreme Court decision in the Janus v. AFSCME case, which frees public employees in 22 states from having to pay any money to a union as a condition of employment, has Chicken Little nodding in solidarity. As reported by Mike Antonucci, just a sampling of the overwrought and downright loopy headlines read “A Future Without Unions Is a Terrifying Dystopia,” “The assassination of the American union,” and “Are Unions Facing the Eve of Destruction?”
Prior to the ruling, teachers and other government workers could opt out of the political portion of union dues but still were forced to pay for the “non-political” part. The Court in overturning the 41 year-old Abood decision, however, blew away that distinction. The case was about freedom of association. Period. Government unions still exist, can collectively bargain and maintain exclusive bargaining rights.
The aforementioned headlines were not the only hysteria surrounding the Court’s decision. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten growled, “The right-wing extremists on the Supreme Court showed their true colors today.” The Badass Teachers Association, a strident left-wing union faction, claims the decision “will lead to turmoil throughout the United States.” The California Teachers Association insists that the case was “bankrolled by corporate interests” who want to “rig the economic system.” Playing the race card, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey proclaimed the ruling was “an attack on black people, on brown people, on working-class people in the city of Chicago.” The United Teachers of Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl got creative and threw in a shot at the Los Angeles school board. After the usual blather about evil billionaires and greedy corporations, the union boss veered off and slammed the “ideologically driven, pro-privatization leadership of LAUSD, which prioritizes the unregulated growth of charter schools.”
No, no, no, no and no. One more time – the lawsuit was simply about voluntary union association.
And it wasn’t just the unions that were having hissy fits. In her dissent, SCOTUS Justice Elena Kagan insisted that “the worse part of today’s opinion is where the majority subverts all known principles of stare decisis (the doctrine of precedence.) The majority makes plain, in the first 33 pages of its decision, that it believes Abood was wrong. But even if that were true (which it is not), it is not enough.”
There have been several landmark cases where prior rulings have been completely disregarded, most notably in Plessy v Ferguson. In the 1896 ruling, the Court upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation laws for public facilities as long as the segregated facilities were equal in quality. But in 1954, stare decisis was set aside when the court overturned Plessy. In Brown v the Board of Education of Topeka, the Court reversed itself, saying that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
Something tells me that Kagan was okay with nixing stare decisis in the Brown case.
Fortunately Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion in Janus, had no patience for stare decisis in his decision, saying, “The State’s extraction of agency fees from nonconsenting public sector employees violates the First Amendment. Abood erred in concluding otherwise, and stare decisis cannot support it. Abood is therefore overruled.”
Outlandishly, Kagan also lamented, “Public employee unions will lose a secure source of financial support.” Well, gee, I guess she must feel for the poor burglar who gets busted and thusly loses “a secure source of financial support.”
What Kagan and the unionista hysterics have completely omitted from their collective breast-beating is that the SCOTUS decision affects only 22 states. The other 28 already have right-to-work laws. And all of them have functional public employee unions with financial support. And those state’s economies aren’t rigged. And black and brown people have not been negatively affected. And life goes on there without turmoil.
At the end of the day, the Supreme Court’s decision protects the rights of individuals from predatory unions. Justice was served. The unions in 22 states need to deal with it. The prevalent bellyaching and class warfare may hook some in, but it doesn’t do much for the rest of us who are not interested in preserving the unions’ gravy train with money forcibly taken from workers.
The unions will be just fine. As Mike Antonucci reports, the National Education Association and its state affiliates take in about $1,600,000,000 a year in tax-free money. And that dollar amount does not even include money that goes to NEA locals, the American Federation of Teachers and its affiliates or AFSCME, or SEIU, or all the other public employee unions. The numbers are staggering, and will remain so.
In other words, the unions are still allowed to operate with their thumbs on the scale. But after the Janus decision, that pressure is thankfully somewhat lighter.
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.