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SPRINGFIELD/WASHINGTON (Heartland Newsfeed) — Mark Janus received his first lessons about public service at an early age, while growing up in Springfield as a member of the Boy Scouts in the area. His dedication would eventually led to him becoming an Eagle Scout. Today, he passes along his knowledge and wisdom to young men and women from the state capital in Springfield while leading scouting trips to Florida.
Janus’ public service isn’t limited and doesn’t end with merit badges and camping trips, but it also involves his career with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS). Because of his dedication to public service, Janus now finds himself at the center of a historic case in the U.S. Supreme Court with major implications which may affect millions of union workers like him, as oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME begins Monday, Feb. 26.
Let’s break down what’s involved in this case and why this case matters:
- In his position with DHFS, he works to help children stuck in the middle of divorce proceedings involving their parents. In order to keep his position, he has had to pay thousands of dollars in fees in the form of union dues to one of the largest, most powerful political actors in the State of Illinois — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
- Janus has stated that AFSCME doesn’t operate to his standards of service, citing that “the union’s fight is not his fight.”
- AFSCME has the reputation of supporting politicians — mostly Democrat — which have caused the state’s current budget and pension fund crises, dating as early back as 2001, where Janus describes this as “not public service.”
- The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees freedoms of speech and association, but Janus and many workers like him argue that through many years endured of mandated, compulsory association with unions, their true interests are not represented.
Janus v. AFSCME challenges a precedent set in 1977 via Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which allowed state and local governments to force — that’s right, force — employees to pay money to unions as a condition of employment.
Currently, there are millions of governmental employees who live and work in 22 states who are faced with an unfair choice — pay the union or lose your job, which is an incredibly unethical demand for unions to be making.
The Supreme Court has seriously had considerations to overturn the 1977 decision, but was slightly derailed due to a 4-4 deadlock regarding Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs sued the teacher’s union at her school in 2015 for collecting fees, which she argues was in violation of her First Amendment rights.
A 5-4 decision in favor would have stripped the power away from unions, but due to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, the case and issue continued to go unresolved in the nation’s highest court, until now.
Janus is well represented via the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center in this case.
A victory in favor of Janus would terminate the forced payment of fees to labor unions for all governmental workers across the country. These workers who do not want to support a union will no longer be required to retain a union membership or pay dues in order to keep their jobs. More than half of U.S. states have already outlawed such practices of being forced to pay fees to labor unions in order to retain employment.
Union officials, including that of AFSCME, have criticized workers like Janus as “free riders” by not wanting to fund the cost of union representation in the collective bargaining process, in which Janus offers a simple response — “Let me out.”
Janus notes having successfully negotiating his own salary and benefits at previous job positions before working for the State of Illinois and cites, “I’d be more than happy to do so again.”
AFSCME proponents argue that state law requires the union to provide representation to government workers like Janus, but purposely left out of that narrative involves the state’s largest government labor unions — the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois chapter of the AFL-CIO — which wrote the laws more than three decades ago that are being fought against today.
Witness slips in archives show that these groups registered support for legislation which required unions to represent all workers in collective bargaining, whether they wanted it or not and one of these bills was signed at a union event in September 1983 by then-Republican Gov. James R. Thompson.
The solution to this self-imposed problem is quite simple: allow for the state law to be changed to allow for workers to negotiate that salary and benefits on their own volition, not via some forced union representation. Unfortunately, such radical idea is enraging AFSCME representatives, who would rather silence people like Janus, stating they have no right to be heard at the bargaining table.
Janus doesn’t view himself as deserving of such attention despite the gravity and strong arguments which will be presented in his case.
“I just look at it as an average guy standing up for his own rights of free speech,” Janus said. “I don’t look at it like I’m anybody special or anybody extraordinary.”
Janus’ fellow employees in Illinois, as well as governmental workers nationwide will be the judge on how much attention is given to this case, not necessarily just the Supreme Court.