John Stossel: Right-to-work ruling coming from Supremes
If your workplace is a union shop, are you forced to pay union dues? Next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about that.
When I worked at CBS and ABC, I was ordered to join the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. I said, “I'm no ‘artist.' I'm a reporter! I won't join!” But my bosses said they couldn't pay me unless I did.
In the 27 right-to-work states — New York and Pennsylvania aren't among them — unions can't force people to join. But the Supreme Court may say that no government worker, in any state, can be forced to pay a union.
That outcome would thrill Rebecca Friedrichs, the teacher who filed a right-to-work lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court two years ago. She got mad at the California Teachers Association during the last recession. Good teachers at her school were about to be laid off. She'd tried to protect them by getting all teachers to agree to a slight pay cut. But the union wouldn't even allow her to survey other teachers. That helped make Friedrichs angry enough to sue her union. Three years later, the Supreme Court agreed to hear her case.
Supreme Court watchers predicted she would win. Union cheerleaders were pessimistic. But shortly before the justices voted, Antonin Scalia died, and without his vote, they deadlocked 4-4. “That was the most devastating day,” says Friedrichs.
Now before the court is a lawsuit filed by government worker Mark Janus. With Neil Gorsuch the ninth justice, unions are worried — so worried that Steven Kreisberg of AFSCME, the big government-employees union, agreed to do one of my YouTube interviews.
“Our members ... want their union to have power,” he said. “It's (Janus') right to dissent and not be a member of our union. He only has to pay the fees that are used to represent him.”
But what's the point of dissenting from the union if you still have to pay? Janus doesn't want to be forced to pay for something he doesn't agree with.
Kreisberg replied, “I'm not sure if he doesn't agree with it, or just simply doesn't want to pay because he'd like to get those services for free.”
That's an argument a free-market advocate can understand. But who judges what is a “benefit”?
“If I saw their representation as a benefit, I could agree with that, but I don't,” Friedrichs said. “The benefits aren't worth the moral costs.”
Kreisberg responded, “That sounds like the words of a right-wing activist, not the words of a teacher.”
Janus' lawsuit points out that Thomas Jefferson wrote, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” Kreisberg's answer: “Thomas Jefferson had no sense of 21st-century labor relations.”
That's probably true. But some principles are eternal, like deciding what to do with your own money and not being forced to fund speech with which you disagree.
The justices will rule this summer. I hope they'll side with Jefferson. Forcing people to pay for what they don't want is tyranny.
John Stossel is author of “No They Can't! Why Government Fails — But Individuals Succeed.”