Those of our readers who follow my columns at The American Spectator might know a bit about the subject of this post, but a decision the Supreme Court just handed down in a case about union dues and the First Amendment looks like a political history-maker for the 21st century.
That case being Janus v. AFSCME, in which the Supreme Court just dealt a big defeat to public sector unions.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday dealt a blow to organized labor, ruling that non-members cannot be forced in certain states to pay fees to unions representing public employees such as teachers and police, shutting off a key union revenue source.
On a 5-4 vote powered by the court’s conservative majority, the justices overturned a 1977 Supreme Court precedent that had allowed the so-called agency fees that are collected from millions of non-union workers in lieu of union dues to fund non-political activities like collective bargaining.
The ruling means that the estimated 5 million non-union workers who pay these fees will no longer have to do so.
There are estimates this will affect a lot more than five million people, because there are union members who would rather not be, and per this decision it’s quite possible you’ll begin to see rule changes in lots of states making it easier to get out of a public sector union.
The court ruled that forcing non-members to pay agency fees to unions whose views they may oppose violates their rights to free speech and free association under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
Writing for the court, conservative Justice Samuel Alito said that while the ruling “may cause unions to experience unpleasant transition costs in the short term” that must be weighed against “how many billions of dollars have been taken from nonmembers and transferred to public-sector unions in violation of the First Amendment.”
Two dozen states require agency fees, and an estimated 5 million non-union workers for state and local governments pay them. Federal employees and private-sector workers do not.
Unions contend that mandatory agency fees are needed to eliminate the problem of what they call “free riders” – non-members who benefit from union representation, for example through salary and working conditions obtained in collective bargaining – without paying for it.
Conservative activists took aim at the fees as they sought to curb the influence of unions, which often support the Democratic Party and liberal causes.
The ruling deprives unions of a vital revenue stream, undercut their ability to attract new members and undermine their ability to spend in political races.
The case arose in Illinois, and the plaintiff is Mark Janus – a child support specialist for the state who filed suit objecting to the union “agency fees” charged against his paycheck despite the fact he wasn’t a member. Janus noted the vast sums AFSCME spends on political contributions, sums which in the last election cycle have been spent exclusively on Democrats, and said it’s a violation of his First Amendment rights to take his money by force and spend it trying elect politicians he’s voting against and disagrees with.
That the case isn’t a 9-0 decision is troubling, but we are where we are.
A couple of weeks ago I covered the political effects of this decision, which everybody more or less anticipated, at The American Spectator…
We’re talking about big, big money here. In 2016, according to Open Secrets, the National Education Association spent $29,775,536 on political contributions. The American Federation of Teachers spent $33,596,605. SEIU spent $39,389,770. AFSCME, the defendant in the Janus case, spent $15,664,104.
And well more than 90 cents of each of those dollars were spent on Democrats. AFSCME didn’t spend a nickel on any Republican anywhere in the country in 2016.
So if public employees were able to extricate themselves from paying to subsidize Democrat politics, what does that do to the Democrat Party?
My old friend David Huguenel, who has worked political races from coast to coast and is currently a vice president for the Republican political consulting firm Jamestown Associates, wrote a very interesting blog post on Jamestown’s website Tuesday discussing that exact subject. According to Huguenel, the entire dynamic of the Democrat Party will have to change — and it might entail a split altogether.
What Huguenel says, and he’s correct, is that if public sector unions stop being the moneybags for the Dems they currently are, that party is going to have to rediscover their old love affair with private-sector unions — like the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO:
In 2016, public sector and teachers’ unions outspent building trades and industrial unions by over $32 million. But just ten years prior in 2006, private sector unions outspent public sector unions by nearly $5 million. In fact, private sector unions outspent their government counterparts every year as far back as 1990. It wasn’t until 2010 that government unions’ spending skyrocketed past their private sector cousins.
As the Supreme Court deliberates Janus vs. AFSCME, the important question isn’t simply whether Democrats will suffer if public sector unions are no longer able to involuntarily siphon money from their members. Smart observers will also be mindful of whether or not the Democratic party will be able to readjust its messaging in order to appeal to private sector unions who, unlike public sector unions, rely on a strong economy for the health of their membership. This will be especially interesting to watch play out in swing states that voted for Obama in 2012, but swung for Trump in 2016.
One thing is for sure — Democrats will have a lot of work to do to court those private sector unions. While public sector unions and their members wear their hatred of President Trump like a badge of honor, private sector building trades and unions have been warmer to him, meeting with President Trump in 2017 to discuss infrastructure and taking the time for a photo op. One can also safely assume that many of the blue collar workers who make up these unions are receptive to Trump’s “America First” policies like the recent steel and aluminum tariffs, and his tough talk on China. But this support for Trump is far from the first time that private sector unions have been vocal supporters of Republican candidates who spoke to issues important to them; in 2013, for instance, NJ Governor Christie received the support of many of the state’s private sector union leaders.
Huguenel makes the further point that private sector union members are a whole lot different people than your classic public sector union folks. Your average teamster or union electrician working at an industrial plant isn’t the same culturally as a public school teacher or bureaucrat at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and it’s that cultural difference which really matters. After all, Trump carried 43 percent of union households in 2016, and there was a very significant spread between the public sector union employees and the private sector folks within that number.
Because while the AFL-CIO, let’s say, is just as likely to donate to Democrats as the SEIU is, it’s a little different type of Democrat the AFL-CIO is interested in backing. If you’re making political decisions for the AFL-CIO your membership is likely to be a lot more restive if you’re backing social justice warrior types who think transvestites in the ladies’ room is a legitimate human rights cause or that black people by definition can’t be racist.
They’ll be a lot more interested in the Dick Gephardt types than the Liz Warrens or Maxine Waterses.
But the problem the Dems have is they’ve fully invested in the Hard Left. Look who runs the party now, after all — Tom Perez and Keith Ellison. You can’t get any more Hard Left than those two. That’s a party built by and for government workers and the cultural Marxist crowd, and it has alienated, purposefully, the union electricians and pipefitters it was built on.
And the electricians and pipefitters voted for Trump last cycle. That’s how he won Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and he carried union households in Ohio (which he also won) by nine points after Mitt Romney lost them by 23 points four years earlier. It was the cultural piece — truck drivers like Chick-fil-A just fine! — and Trump’s trade policy which did the trick. As such, the leadership of many of the major private-sector unions is now much more interested in playing ball with the Republican Party.
So Janus comes down today, the morning after a bunch of hard-core socialists just took down more mainstream politicians in Democrat primary races across the country, and what we see is a political reality in which the Democrats are poised to go off the Bernie Sanders deep end without an institutional framework to have any money to run campaigns with. Yes, they can rely on the big-money George Soros/Tom Steyer types to fund their campaigns, but that isn’t going to work for them the way the SEIU/AFSCME/AFT/NEA cash has.
And when they’ve got to go hat in hand to the Teamsters and AFL-CIO for campaign checks, what they’re going to find is the private sector unions are a lot more interested in Joe Crowley than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It’s going to become harder to keep that union money together, much less the coalition which has built the Democrat Party to what it is.