Teacher Choice Paving Way For Parental Choice

NEA President Becky Pringle
Largely thanks to the Right to Work attorney-won U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, union bosses like NEA President Becky Pringle are no longer able to block virtually all meaningful education policy reforms. (Credit: NEA / YouTube)

Post-Janus, Union Dons’ Control Over K-12 Education Is Loosening

As recently as six years ago this spring, teachers and other K-12 public school employees in nearly two dozen non-Right to Work states could still be fired for refusal to pay dues or fees to an unwanted union.

But that all changed on June 27, 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down what is arguably the most dramatic expansion of employees’ freedom of association since the New Deal with its Janus decision.

In Janus, a case orally argued and won by then-National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorney and current Foundation Vice President Bill Messenger, the High Court decided that public employers all across the country may not fire civil servants for refusing to pay union dues or fees.

Mr. Messenger argued this case free of charge, all the way to the Supreme Court, on behalf of independent-minded Illinois civil servant Mark Janus.

In addition to Mr. Messenger and several other Foundation attorneys, attorneys for the nonprofit Liberty Justice Center in Chicago furnished Mr. Janus with free legal aid.

Pre-Janus, roughly 5.6 million, or 80%, of America’s unionized state and local public servants lived in places where they could be forced to bankroll a union on pain of termination.

Assessing how many of the public employees working in these same jurisdictions today are taking advantage of their right under Janus to withhold financial support from Big Labor while keeping their jobs is no simple task.

But state and local government payroll departments in all 50 states that record how many employees are subject to “exclusive” union representation during any given pay period, and how many are having dues withheld from their paychecks, are surely the best available resource for making this assessment.

Number of Civil Servants Who Pay Money to a Union Down By Roughly 1.2 Million

Public-employee payroll records are not published, but interested persons may obtain them by filing freedom-of-information (FOIA) requests under state government transparency laws.

And over the course of the first five years after Janus, the Midland, Mich.-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP) submitted FOIA requests to public employers in every non-Right to Work state except Missouri to ascertain how many employees had successfully opted out of union financial support.

As of 2022, the MCPP was able to obtain employment records for 3.293 million government employees working under union monopoly-bargaining deals in public workplaces in the non-Right to Work states it is tracking.

Without Janus, virtually all of these employees would still be bankrolling a union to keep their jobs. But the data show that, thanks to Janus, nearly 730,000 of them are not having any union dues withheld from their paychecks.

Based on the large sample for which it was able to obtain data, the MCPP estimated last year there are 1.2 million fewer actively employed civil servants bankrolling a union today than there would be had the Janus case never made it to the Supreme Court, or had the court ruled the other way.

Conservative Estimate: Janus’ Annual Cost to Big Labor Nears Three-Quarters of a Billion

While annual union dues assessments per worker vary widely, and there is no easy way to estimate the average for public employees nationwide, if one assumes it is $600, as the MCPP very conservatively does, Janus is now costing Big Labor roughly $720 million in revenue every year.

And union bosses’ annual dues-money losses related to Janus are likely to continue mounting for years to come.

Just last year, for example, federal Current Population Survey data, which very likely understate the magnitude of Janus’ impact, show that the number of state and local public employees bankrolling a union nationwide fell by 115,000, even as state and local public employment rose by 147,000!

“There is no doubt,” cautioned National Right to Work Committee and Foundation President Mark Mix, “that, thanks to the extraordinary monopoly-bargaining privileges they continue to wield over public employees under statutes adopted by nearly 40 states, government union bosses remain, post-Janus, America’s most powerful special interest in state and local politics. 

“But, six years after Janus, government union lobbyists no longer have the ability to block virtually all meaningful reforms of how state and local governments furnish essential public services like education.” 

More and More States Are Breaking up Big Labor-Favored Education Monopolies

Mr. Mix added that school choice programs that effectively break up public school districts’ education monopolies, which help teacher union bosses while hurting schoolchildren and their parents, are a key case in point.

As the Wall Street Journal pointed out in a February 8 editorial, in 2023 alone, “17 states expanded or enacted initiatives that make money directly available to parents to spend on alternative schools oreducational paths for their children.”

Without school choice, parents who are not in a position to move out of Big Labor-dominated jurisdictions and cannot afford to cover the entire cost of sending their children to private school typically have no effective recourse when teacher union bosses abuse their power.

In Newton, Mass., for example, teacher union bosses recently engineered an illegal strike that kept roughly 12,000 students out of the classroom two weeks.

Rollback of State Monopoly Bargaining Laws Is Critical For Continued Progress

Many parents in the town are reportedly angry about teacher union kingpins’ willingness to hold schoolchildren’s education hostage in order to secure their strike demands. But without the option to take the tax dollars funding their children’s schooling elsewhere, their ability to fight back is minimal.

Putting parents in charge of deciding how at least a substantial share of the public funds allocated for their children’s education is spent infuriates government union bosses, and they have responded to the spread of school choice with vitriolic attacks.

Late last year, for example, American Federation of Teachers (AFT/AFLCIO) union President Randi Weingarten actually had the nerve to smear opponents of forcing kids to remain in failing unionized government schools as enemies of “democracy” and “civil discourse”!

Mr. Mix commented:

“The tide of public opinion appears to be turning strongly in favor of school choice, and I believe there is little Randi Weingarten and her cohorts can do about that.

“Unfortunately, as long as the NEA and AFT teacher unions remain the dominant lobbies with regard to education policy and an array of other matters in state after state, their ability to stall expansion of school choice in Big Labor stronghold states like Massachusetts, and even elsewhere, will remain formidable.

“Janus was an important step in the right direction.

“But the teacher union empire will continue to be a roadblock to real improvements in public education as long as the vast majority of states continue to hand Big Labor bosses monopoly bargaining power over how teachers are compensated and managed.”

This article was originally published in our monthly newsletter. Go here to access previous newsletter posts.

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