The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Weigel: Why the Supreme Court’s blow to unions matters

The Supreme Court ruled that individuals are no longer able to force members to join and/or pay dues. This is a “win” for liberty and individual freedom, at the expense of collective rights.

Another week, another Supreme Court case that deserves our attention. In Janus v. AFSCME, the court levied a 5-4 decision in favor of Janus, an Illinoisan suing the public union he was forced to join and pay dues to. Therefore, in the wake of the court’s ruling, all states now effectively become right-to-work states in which individuals cannot be forced to a join or pay dues to a public-sector union. This stands as a clear statement from the Supreme Court. Individual liberty is more important than the rights of collective entities.

Now, what do I mean by that? I mean that the court ruling in favor of Janus, instead of AFSCME — American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees — signals that the court prioritizes individual rights over group rights. Mark Janus, an individual, has the right not to join a public union and has the right not to be forced to pay dues to that union, even if he benefits from collective bargaining and other activities the union does.

From the perspective of a union, this is a crushing blow. Unions will now have to either operate with less money or find new ways to get money in addition to collecting dues from members because experts project that unions will lose 10 to 33 percent of their members. If membership is not compulsory and dues are not required, many people who benefit from union may be inclined to take a free ride. That is to say, a person might opt to not pay membership fees but still reap the rewards of collective bargaining on behalf of the union.

At the same time from Janus’ and my own perspective, the court’s ruling is welcomed. Let me explain with a personal anecdote.

This past year, I was in a Ph.D. program at the University of Illinois and the GEO — Graduate Student Union — went on strike because it was unable to come to an agreement with the university on contract negotiations. Illinois was not a right-to-work state. Therefore, as a graduate teaching assistant, I was required to join the GEO and a fee was automatically deducted from my pay as a membership fee to the union.

During the strike, many of my colleagues tried to cajole me into participating. Additionally, the GEO flooded me with calls, emails, texts, and Facebook notifications to try to mobilize me. Amid all this, I, myself, did not agree with the platform of the GEO. I thought that the GEO was asking for way too much in its proposals to the university. The important thing to realize is, my thought didn’t matter to the GEO. The union already had my dues, and the vast majority of the TAs were in favor of the proposal. I felt helpless, as though I had no say in the contract negotiations that would directly affect me.

Yes, my viewpoint was in the minority, and the GEO was fighting for contract changes that I did not support. Nonetheless, I was forced to pay dues and be part of the GEO.

Post the Supreme Court’s decision, Janus, TAs, and all other public employees won’t be forced to consent to the platform of their unions. They won’t have to pay dues/membership fees to an organization whose platform they do not support. This a clear victory for liberty: individual rights.

Will the court’s decision have other effects? Assuredly. For instance, most unions tend to support Democratic candidates and platforms. Ergo, in the future with fewer members and, more importantly, less in membership fees, unions’ political power could weaken. Is this a good thing? A bad thing?

Most people will have their own opinions on this. But one thing is for sure: With the court’s ruling, individuals now have the right — the freedom — to decide whether they want to be part of a union. And it’s all because the Supreme Court decided that individual rights trump the rights of collective organizations such as unions.

We can argue until the end of time about whether the court’s decision is a net positive of or negative; however, at the end of the day, it’s tough to come up with a clear argument for why collective rights are more important than individual rights. Perhaps the court got something correct.

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