California labor leaders are in full panic mode over a pending Supreme Court case, Janus vs. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). This Illinois lawsuit challenges the rights of unions in 22 states, including California, to collect “fair share” fees from public sector employees who do not want to be forced to join unions, but may benefit from their collective bargaining agreements. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of this union practice in 1977 in a lawsuit against the Detroit Board of Education.
Last year, a similar case, Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association was brought before the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs, nine teachers, and the Christian Educators Association International sought to re-establish the right of individual teachers and other public employees to decide for themselves whether to join and support a union. The timing of the Friedrichs filing couldn’t have been worse. The case was argued before the Supreme Court on January 11, 2016. Justice Scalia’s death, on February 13, 2016, left only eight Justices to deliberate and decide the case. On March 29, the Court issued a 4-4 tie decision, which left current law in place.
With the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, union leaders now anticipate a ruling against their practice of imposing “fair share” fees on non-union public sector employees. Without the ability to collect these extra fees, union membership numbers in California could drop by 15 to 30 percent.
Though the term “fair share” has been used by Democrats to bash the rich for not paying enough taxes, union leaders use it to bash public sector employees who refuse to give up a portion of their pay to subsidize the union’s political activity. In California, public sector union leaders have been very successful in negotiating exquisite, taxpayer-funded pension benefits for public sector employees. Imagine being able to retire at 55 with at least 90% of your highest single–year salary for the rest of your life, plus health insurance benefits. At that young age, many retired public employees can find another job, and essentially, collect two salaries. Private sector employees usually work until the age of 65 or older and are normally awarded a very small pension and/or a 401k, which is subject to the whims of the stock market. Health insurance benefits are not always guaranteed.
A recent study released by Stanford University argues that many cities in California will double the amount spent on employee pensions by 2030, leaving less money for hiring more teachers, park employees, and other public sector workers. How ironic is it that the very means union bosses have used to secure exorbitant pensions for public employees, will eventually render many cities too financially strapped to continue to employ additional public employees.