But Ceasing to Bankroll a Government Union Is Often a Taxing Job

For more than 40 years, the U.S. Supreme Court sent a disturbing message to educators and other public servants in states without state-level Right to Work protections:

You can resign from a union if you disagree with it, but even if you resign you will still have to bankroll the union.

Fortunately, in its 2018 Janus v. AFSCME ruling, the High Court finally admitted it had been wrong in 1977’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education to give a judicial green light to forced extractions of union fees from nonmembers as a condition of public employment.

Largest Teacher Union’s Working Membership Down By 130,000 Since 2017-18

Agreeing with the team of plaintiff’s attorneys led by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s William Messenger, the Janus court found that compelling a state or local public servant to support a union financially, or face termination, violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Since Janus, hundreds of thousands of educators have exercised their now-recognized constitutional right not to bankroll the National Education Association- (NEA-) or American Federation of Teachers- (AFT-) affiliated union that wields monopoly-bargaining power in their school district.

In 2018 alone, the massive NEA, America’s largest teacher union, lost the revenue stream it had been taking in from 87,000 nonmembers. 

Previously, these educators had been forced under state law to fork over agency fees to local and state subsidiaries of the NEA and the NEA itself in order to keep their jobs.

Moreover, since the last pre-Janus academic year (2017-18), the NEA’s active, working membership has fallen by roughly 130,000, from 2.626 million to 2.497 million.

The Janus-facilitated decline in the NEA union bosses’ empire has accelerated over time.  In the 2021-22 academic year alone (the last year for which teacher union membership data are available), the NEA union’s working membership fell by just over 40,000, while the AFL-CIO-affiliated AFT, the nation’s second-largest teacher union, lost more than 19,000 working members.

These losses occurred even though public schools across the country expanded their combined workforce by 125,000 between September 2021 and September 2022, according to U.S. Labor Department data!

National Right to Work Committee Vice President John Kalb commented:

“Many teachers have ample reason to want to quit government unions, or never join in the first place.

“To take just one example, vast numbers of educators who are starting their careers are understandably appalled by union bosses’ relentless advocacy of ‘last in, first out’ layoff policies. 

“So-called LIFO provisions in union contracts and in Big Labor-backed state statutes effectively ensure only teachers with low seniority lose their jobs when enrollment declines or a budget shortfall occurs.  Students’ academic needs, merit and effort are all tossed out the window.

“Unfortunately, four-and-a-half years after Janus, it remains extraordinarily difficult in many states and school districts for educators who once joined a union, but later came to regret that decision, to cut off all financial support for that union by resigning their membership.”

‘Automatic Payroll Deduction’ Schemes Help Union Bosses Keep Teachers Trapped

Mr. Kalb explained: 

“The vast majority of states today allow Big Labor bosses to trap teachers and other civil servants in so-called ‘automatic payroll deduction’ schemes that block them from exercising their constitutional right to stop forking over money to the union for 350 or more days out of each year.

“As a consequence, top teacher union bosses like NEA President Becky Pringle and AFT President Randi Weingarten can keep extracting forced fees from educators for months or even years after they quit the union.

“But pro-Right to Work lawmakers and the Right to Work Committee are fighting back. In state after state, the Committee is helping build support for legislation that bans ‘automatic payroll deductions’ of union dues and fees and thus empowers employees to exercise their Janus rights without unjust hindrances.

“In 2021, West Virginia adopted such a paycheck-protection law with Committee lobbying support. And the Committee looks forward to helping many other states adopt similar statutes over the next few years.”

This article was originally published in the National Right to Work Committee monthly newsletter. Go here to access previous newsletter posts.

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