Mark Janus headlines WPC Solutions Summit events

May 23, 2018

Over the past two days, hundreds of engaged citizens attended WPC’s 5th Annual Solutions Summit events in Western and Eastern Washington where they heard the story of Mark Janus.

Mark Janus is the man behind one of the most important legal cases of our time.  His case, Janus v. AFSCME, which is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, would end the forced unionization of public workers by giving them the right to reject paying a union for representation they may not want.  The nine Supreme Court Justices who will rule on Janus next month will determine whether requiring public employees to pay union dues or agency fees for the privilege of working violates the First Amendment rights of those workers.

Mark shared with WPC and Solutions Summit participants his story of how he went from a child support specialist for the state of Illinois whose job is to protect children, to the lead plaintiff in a case to protect the rights of millions of public workers.  Mark says that contrary to the union propaganda painting him as a union-buster, he is not anti-union.  He simply doesn’t feel the union he is forced to pay represents his best interests. 

“I am not anti-union. Unions have their place. And some people like them.  But unions aren't a fit for everyone. And I shouldn't be forced to pay money to a union if I don't think it does a good job representing my interests.”

It’s too bad The Olympian editorial board wasn’t among the hundreds of Solutions Summit participants who heard Mark Janus’ story.  Last week that editorial board published a disappointing opinion that giving public sectors workers a choice in whether they pay a union for representation they may not want “is not fair.” 

What follows is the tired union “free-rider” argument defending forced unionization.  The editorial regurgitates the usual union boilerplate talking points that forced unionization is necessary to prevent “free-riders” from getting “union benefits” for free.  It reads more like than a union propaganda piece than a thoughtful and comprehensive examination of the issue.  It also demonstrates the editorial board’s lack of understanding of the complexities of the issue.

Let’s be clear; Mark Janus is no free-rider.  He isn’t looking to get something for free.  He just doesn’t believe the union does a good job representing his interests and does not believe he should be forced to pay them.  As the former president of both the Vermont American Federation of Teachers and Vermont AFLC-CIO, who supports giving workers a choice, points out, the free-rider who covets the benefits of membership but doesn’t want to pay is a union propagated myth:

“I don’t remember meeting any free riders who refuse unionization just to save a buck. I have, however, talked to plenty of people who despised the union they were forced to support, who wanted nothing to do with it, or who sullenly put up with union hegemony because there was no real alternative, like the sad inhabitants of a totalitarian, one-party state. I’ve met plenty of these folks–disgusted, disappointed, whose rights have been infringed.  But I haven’t met a single one of the mythical characters union lawyers talk about in court: that is those fantastic beasts who benefit from all the advantages union membership can confer but chuckle into their hands over the great deal they get without paying full price.”

As for The Olympian claim that workers like Mark are free-riders who want to enjoy the “benefits” of union representation without paying their fair share, here is a news flash for the editorial board—not every worker thinks they benefit from union representation. 

For example, the union model of placing more value on (and basing compensation on) a seniority system, instead of individual productivity, does not benefit the most productive workers who may have less time on the job.  Every worker gets the same raises and promotions at the same rate, regardless of individual performance. 

This means a highly productive worker earns less than a colleague who may be much less productive but has worked there longer.  And that high-performing worker is stuck earning the same as a co-worker who may be a poor performer simply because they are on the same bottom rung of seniority.  There is no reward for the high-performer’s productivity.

How does that benefit every worker?  The answer is that it doesn’t.  Why should those high performing workers, who, without the constraints of a collective bargaining contract, could negotiate higher wages on their own based on their job performance, be forced to pay the union for contracts that are harmful to their economic interests?

The editorial board also buys into the union falsehood that they are forced by federal law to represent every worker, even those who do not pay.

This is not true.

Under federal law, unions are allowed to bargain solely for their own dues-paying members under a “members-only” contract. The benefits secured under these contracts apply only to dues-paying members.

Unions are only required to represent every worker, even those who don’t pay, if they take advantage of the option of “exclusive bargaining representation.” This monopoly bargaining option allows unions to represent and negotiate on behalf of all employees in a company, regardless of whether every employee wants that representation. But the union must also negotiate equally for all workers.

If a union decides against exclusive representation bargaining, it is not required to represent non-members.  In that case only the members with a signed contract are required to pay dues and the union negotiates only for those members.  

In practice unions almost always seek exclusive representation status, since it gives them a monopoly position in the workplace and more leverage to negotiate a better contract.

It’s a case of classic circular reasoning-unions choose to negotiate as an exclusive representative in order to reap the benefits it provides, then use that choice as justification for forcing employees to pay for that representation, and label reluctant workers who don’t want to pay for it as “free riders.”

Finally, The Olympian editorial board dismisses the legal challenge of Mark Janus v. AFSCME as nothing more than union-busting, saying the “end game” of the Janus case “is to undermine membership in unions.”

That’s wrong.  The end game is to protect the constitutional rights of public workers and give them a choice in whether they pay for representation.

In closing, The Olympian editorial board wonders “in jest” if workers who opt out of paying the union (assuming the Court rules in favor Janus) should be denied the “benefits” negotiated by the union.

It’s actually no joke. WPC and other organizations advocate for such a “Worker’s Choice” policy that would release public employees from unwanted union representation and relieve unions from providing services to workers who do not want to pay union dues or agency fees.

Simply put, Worker’s Choice would enable public sector employees who opt out of union membership to represent themselves. They would negotiate their own wages, benefits and working conditions.  Unions would have no duty to represent those employees and would negotiate separately on behalf of their members only.

This solution would benefit both workers and unions—it would eliminate the forced unionization of workers, and it would eliminate the “free rider” problem for unions.

Public sector unions would maintain their exclusive representation privilege, meaning only one union could organize employees in a unit, but the union would no longer be required to provide services to non-members as a condition of exercising that privilege.  Non-members would represent themselves when negotiating wages, benefits and working conditions with their employer.

Mark Janus says he’s fine with that.  He doesn’t want or need the “union benefits.”  As he so succinctly puts it:

“I’ve negotiated my own salary and benefits at plenty of jobs before I started working for the state. And I’d be more than happy to do so again.

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