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CUNY professors’ free-speech case could be next blow to Big Labor

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Union officials often bemoan how so-called “dark money” in politics is supposedly being used to “rig the system” against workers.

Ignored, of course, is how Big Labor has managed to rig the system in its favor by buying undue political influence with money seized from workers under threat of termination if they refuse to pay.

This power to extort rank-and-file workers to pay up or be fired still exists for private sector workers not covered by a state Right-to-Work law, which guarantees you can’t be forced into a union to keep your job.

But a landmark US Supreme Court ruling five years ago ended union officials’ ability to dragoon millions of government workers into funding union politics.

In 2018’s Janus v. AFSCME, the justices ruled that the First Amendment protects public employees from being forced to subsidize government-union speech.

It does so because government unions’ conduct is inherently political — the very purpose of a public-sector union is to “bargain” over how the government operates.

Janus’ impact has been massive. The court declared unconstitutional a legal regime union officials used to force workers to subsidize tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of union political action over the years.

Argued by the National Right to Work Foundation’s attorneys, Janus immediately freed some 500,000 nonmember unionized government employees who previously had to pay union fees as a job condition.

Yet the battle to fully enforce workers’ Janus rights continues to this day.

In over 50 follow-up cases, Foundation legal aid has directly helped enforce the rights of another 70,000 public employees.

Since the Janus ruling, recent research suggests that in all some 1.2 million government employees have resigned from a union or refused union membership — roughly equivalent to one in five American public-sector workers.

The exodus has meant an estimated $733 million loss in annual union revenue.

That’s a big blow to union bosses. Yet even if Janus is fully enforced (and the regular filing of new cases to protect public employees’ First Amendment Janus rights suggests it isn’t thus far), that doesn’t mean an end to government union bosses’ undue political influence.

In the vast majority of US states, even post-Janus, laws still empower union officials to force their one-size-fits-all “representation” on all workers in a public sector workplace, even those that oppose the union or voted against its presence.

 This “monopoly bargaining” power gives union leaders control over the contracts, salary, benefits, and work rules of countless workers who openly oppose them.

It also means elected officials answerable to voters are forced to “negotiate” with union bosses over public policy, driving up costs to taxpayers while undermining efficiency and accountability.

Janus went a long way toward reducing union bosses’ stranglehold over public workers’ rights and their inordinate influence over government.

But it’s clear that, to fully protect government workers’ First Amendment rights, union officials must not be able to force public workers under their monopoly “representation.”

Fortunately, there’s an excellent vehicle courts can use to establish such a protection: Goldstein v. Professional Staff Congress (PSC), now before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

In Goldstein, six City University of New York professors seek to invalidate a New York state law that forces the “representation” of the PSC union on them.

The profs adamantly oppose being “represented” by radical PSC officials who have personally attacked them and issued statements the Jewish professors find anti-Semitic.

They ask the court to strike down the forced representation scheme as a violation of the professors’ freedom of association under the First Amendment.

Public-sector unions shouldn’t be able to leverage their monopoly bargaining powers over public workers to further their agendas in government and politics, nor should they be able to force workers to pay for the exercise of that power.

Five years ago, Janus declared the latter unconstitutional.

Hopefully, five years from now, it will be well-established that public workers also have the First Amendment freedom to not be subjected to union “representation” they oppose.





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