New York state Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D–Manhattan) announced he will sponsor a bill to allow public-sector unions in the state to receive taxpayer funding to reimburse the costs of collective bargaining, contract administration, and other related costs.
In a June decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mark Janus, an Illinois government employee who sought to force an end to the involuntary extraction of union dues from his paycheck as a condition of employment.
Speaking of his bill, Gottfried told New York Post reporter Nolan Hicks on July 4 he “would call it a workaround” to the Janus decision.
Gottfried has not yet filed the bill.
‘Against the Public’s Interest’
Ken Girardin, a policy analyst at the Empire Center, says the Janus case settled the question of whether governments can send their employees’ money to union bosses without the workers’ permission.
“In the case of an individual worker, you are diverting money that should be going into their paycheck and sending it into a union fund,” Girardin said. “This is exactly what the justices said needed to stop in the Janus case.”
Circumventing the Janus decision would not promote the well-being of anyone except union bosses, Girardin says.
“This would be opening up a Pandora’s box,” Girardin said. “The public’s interest is not served when public resources flow in such an unrestricted manner to government unions. This bill would let elected officials partake in a favorite pastime of giving goodies to government unions more efficiently than ever, essentially working against the public’s interest.”
Advises Taxpayer Vigilance
Patrick Semmens, vice president for public information with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, says creating an end run around Janus would divert public money to private organizations that have undue influence over politicians.
“Taxpayers are usually the ones to foot the bill when it comes to these negotiations, which take their direct funding from taxpayers dollars and effectively leads to the tax dollars that should go to public funding and programs going to these essentially private organizations,” Semmens said. “Taxpayers should be concerned, because unlike in the private sector, there is no natural cutoff for the amount of spending when it comes to the public sector. If they need more funding, they can always look to taxpayers.”
‘A Matter of Compelled Speech’
Girardin says seeking a workaround to the Janus decision means looking for ways to violate government workers’ First Amendment rights and defeat the purpose of the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Working around the Janus decision is a matter of compelled speech,” Girardin said. “Compelled speech infringes on someone’s rights and dignity when you force someone to stand for something versus letting them speak up or stand against something on their own.”
Girardin says the proposed law would enrich government union bosses at the expense of rank-and-file workers and would essentially be doing exactly what the Janus decision said governments may not do.
“Anything that a public-sector government union does is an attempt to change public policy and is inherently very political,” Girardin said. “This proposal is to take money out of paychecks before it’s paid to workers, and is an attempt to treat these union fees as employee benefits.”
Semmens says the Janus decision helped restore basic American democratic principles.
“We have to look at the big picture: Public-sector unions conduct union bargaining that eventually leads to them having a special seat at the table to argue government policy, and this in itself is inherently anti-democratic,” Semmens said. “Unions holding negotiations over public policy questions is fundamentally contrary to our system of government, where we elect officials to enact the public policy.”
Semmens says government unions should be held to the same standards as other lobbying groups.
“Public-sector unions ought to be the same as any outside special-interest lobby group,” Semmens said. “They should exercise the use of voluntary membership, and they should not get to use taxpayer funded-payroll systems as a form of collecting dues.”