The end of the 2019 school year coincides with an important milestone: Today, June 27, is the one year marker since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which determined that forcibly collecting union dues and fees from public workers, including teachers, is unconstitutional.
This summer is the perfect time to ask yourself the question: What is my union doing for me? Is it representing my values and does it have my best interests in mind?
The anniversary coincides with action this month by state lawmakers to sidestep the rights of public employees by advancing bills that are a clear contrast to the decision made by the nation’s highest court. It also demonstrates how little government unions really care about employees they represent.
The legislation that cleared the Senate and House this session would require that unions be granted special access to new employees in order to pressure them to join. In contrast, last summer, Gov. Gina Raimondo issued a directive to deny state-worker information to other private groups. The legislation also allows unions to charge certain fees to workers who choose not to pay for membership — a potentially unconstitutional ploy.
Many public employees will decide to remain in their union. Many others have already opted out of their membership — including 6% of state workers — but not all for the same reason. Some don’t like the extreme political positions of their union, while others feel their union has misplaced priorities: too little focus on local issues that affect them personally. Still others are turned off by corruption scandals by union leaders, while some simply don’t think they’re getting enough bang for their buck.
While unions have a long history representing public workers, recent trends have raised concerns. Unions are clearly worried about the Janus decision. With the support of sympathetic lawmakers, many states, at the urging of unions, are making it difficult for workers to freely exercise their new choices under Janus.
In a move to protect the labor unions that helped elect him and so many of his colleagues here in Rhode Island, former Attorney General Peter Kilmartin issued a public statement last fall that misled public workers about their Janus rights. Legal experts rightly called out this failure of leadership.
Also exposed last year in the news, the National Education Association Rhode Island, a teachers union, issued a misleading and coercive letter to its Bristol-Warren members. And just late last month, the Rhode Island Ethics Commission launched an investigation into an apparent conflict of interest by state Sen. Valarie Lawson, D-East Providence. Lawson, a high school teacher and NEARI vice president, cosponsored, advocated for, and then voted multiple times for legislation promoted by her union.
Government employees should not fall victim to union antics that trap them and force them to continue to pay for representation they do not want. Public employees should be made fully aware of the court decision that restored their First Amendment rights, allowing them to freely make their own informed decisions. Should they choose to exercise these rights, no worker should have to worry about facing recrimination in the workplace.
Since unions and government officials have chosen not to appropriately advise their own members and employees, the My Pay, My Say campaign we are helping to lead is serving as a fact-based resource for public employees in Rhode Island and around the country to inform them of their rights and offer the service of legal experts if needed.
The Janus decision has served as a wake-up call for many public sector unions. But instead of re-evaluating how they can better represent public workers, many have resorted to pressuring employees and putting up roadblocks for those looking to act freely. Hardworking teachers and all public employees deserve a fully-informed and completely free choice.