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SCOTUS is wrong

SCOTUS is wrong

Today, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Janus, eliminating agency fees in public unions, where non-members contribute to the bargaining services they receive, and essentially making the public sector right to work.

Mark Janus, a child support specialist from Illinois, complained that his agency fees required by the union were unconstitutional based on the first amendment.

The first amendment, which says that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech," has been broadly interpreted to mean that no legislative body (including state governments) can either pass a law restricting speech or a law compelling it. The last part is key.

In a conniving legal maneuver, Janus argued that since unions, as a third party, often spend money in the political sphere supporting candidates they believe will legislate in favor of the workers they represent, he was being compelled to speak and thus support those candidates with his own money.

There are many, many holes in Janus' legal argument. The clearest difficulty with his argument is the fact that since 1977, another supreme court decision forced unions to create an agency fee for non-members, one that excludes money they spend on politics. For example, Janus was only paying 78% of what union members paid because that's the portion of the union's revenue that it spends on collective bargaining.

This should immediately throw out his argument, but SCOTUS accepted Janus' claim that the money, regardless of where it went to within the union, was still supporting an organization that he deemed contrary to his political beliefs.

The second, maddeningly simple objection to Janus' claim is that he could always leave his job. This is the most basic but unaddressed argument surrounding the whole case. Illinois isn't compelling citizens to give unions their money. It's compelling workers within a bargaining unit to give a certain amount of their wage to the union that the majority of workers chose to represent them. This is similar to a corporate employee being "compelled" to give part of his/her labor to that corporation's political activities. This point on corporate compulsion is rightly recognized as foolish because the employee can always opt out of the labor demands by leaving the job. And even then, money for the union's political activities was removed from Janus' agency fee.

If you said, "Wow, this sounds a lot like taxation," you've reached the third critique of the Janus ruling.

A union can only represent a bargaining unit if a majority of its workers vote for it. The union, which represents its workers, uses a small portion of workers' money to negotiate on their behalf, raising wages, creating safer workplace conditions, and obligating break periods. Workplace democracy hasn't quite permeated the zeitgeist the same way federal democracy has, but it's a real thing. Janus arguing that he should be able to work wherever he wants without paying dues to the union that negotiates his contract, no matter the majority opinion of the workers involved in the bargaining unit say, is akin to me saying I won't pay taxes because my money funds ICE and the bombs that kill middle eastern children (which is actually a form of civil disobedience originating with Henry David Thoreau for his opposition to the Mexican war and slavery).

Regardless, the majority (not really, but for argument's sake) voted for taxes to pay for ICE and bombing children, so I'm obligated to pay for it. And, yes, I could always leave the country and opt out of my tax duties.

In short, Janus' case is bizarrely simple, even to a sophomore college student like me, and we should call SCOTUS what it is: wrong.

And it seems like SCOTUS is gearing up to go after private workplace unions in the next few years, possibly setting the precedent to enforcing right to work across the country. But don't lose hope.

Union organizing never had an easy time with politics. It is, at its core, a challenge to corporate capital and power, which controls American politics. To quote Sarah Jaffe in the New York Times:

"The recent strike wave has reminded us that unions win more when they bargain with politicians from a place of strength. And the power that unions have — the power they have always had — is in people, not in dollars spent."

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