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States making legislative moves months before Janus decision expected

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Thursday, April 12, 2018  |  Article  |  By Kyle Gibson

Governor (44) , Labor (55) , Unions, labor (55)
With a decision looming in the high-profile Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME, some states are making moves in anticipation of a ruling against forced union fees.

The main issue in the Janus case is whether or not public-sector union “fair share” fees are a violation of Janus’ rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. These fair share fees are separate from union dues and are required in 22 states, whether the employee wants to be a member of the union or not.

Anticipating that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of Janus and ban forced union fees nationwide, lawmakers in some states are working on advancing legislation to make the process to opt out more difficult.

In New York, for example, Senate Bill S5778 would scrap workers civil rights that were codified in legislation passed in 1958 and make it more difficult for state workers to opt out of paying union dues, according to the Empire Center for Public Policy.

Ken Girardin, an analyst with the Empire Center, said in a post on the center’s website that the bill would eliminate worker protections under Section 93B of New York’s General Municipal Law, which allows government workers the right to opt out of union membership at any time.

"(S)ince the 1970s, government workers who voluntarily join a union have been able to withdraw from union dues deduction 'at any time' simply by notifying their employer, under section 93B of the General Municipal Law," Girardin wrote. "Section 5 of [Senate Bill S577] would supersede that, letting workers withdraw 'only in accordance with the terms of the signed authorization.' ”

Girardin said there was no reason to change the previous law except to benefit unions and require more workers to pay whether they want to be in the union or not.

“No public interest is served by getting rid of the 1958 law,” Girardin said.

About 200,000 New Yorkers who have not signed union-membership forms could stop having their fair share fees withheld if Janus wins, saving a combined $110 million each year, Girardin said, adding that New York has the most unionized public sector in the country.

“New York has historically played an outsized role in the labor movement as a whole,” he said. “So, it makes sense that any changes to labor policy would be most visible here.”

Vincent Vernuccio, senior policy advisor with the State Policy Network and a senior fellow at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Wisconsin, said the state of Washington passed House Bill 2751 in February, which would mandate state collection of dues for public sector unions. The bill was signed into law on March 23. Washington Senate Bill 6082 would prohibit public employers from informing employees of their right to not pay a union as well, Vernuccio said in an op-ed. A summary of the bill said it ensures neutrality of public employers and contractors in the collective bargaining process.

Like the New York bill, Vernuccio said New Jersey Bill S2137 would limit the time periods when workers could opt out of paying union fees.

An Illinois bill, House Bill 5309, also known as the State Agency and Grantee Bonus Prohibition Act, would prevent state agencies from providing bonuses to its employees. State grantees also would not be able to pay bonuses from grant funds. Exempted from the term “employee” in the bill, however, are people who are subject to a collective bargaining agreement – union members.

Legislators are not the only state officials dipping their toes in the Janus debate. Twenty one state attorneys' general filed a brief in the case to defend fair share union fees.

Kim Crockett, vice president and senior policy at the Center of the American Experiment, said the Janus case is not anti-union and is an attempt by public employees to get the court to understand that forcing them into fair-share fees goes against their constitutional rights.

“Pure and simple, it is a free speech case,” Crockett said.

Vernuccio said one of the main complaints on the union side of the Janus case is that they would be stuck representing people who are not paying them if Janus goes against them. Vernuccio said the worker’s choice model would be a good solution in this case.

“Under worker’s choice, unions do not have to represent people not paying them,” Vernuccio said. “It essentially gives unions the ability to say goodbye to public employees not paying them and those public employees, it gives them the right to say no thanks to unwanted union representation.”

A decision from the Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME is expected in June.