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Should public employee unions be allowed to charge nonmembers fees to help pay for collective bargaining?


Tasha Cordero

Teacher, Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School; secretary of Bristol-Plymouth Teachers Association

Tasha Cordero.Handout

Fair. Share. Two words that prevail in the raising of my toddlers. They are also two words at the heart of the Janus v. AFSCME case. So what’s Janus about? It’s about money and power, plain and simple.

Under current law, no one can be required to join a union. However, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously 41 years ago that when a union is established by a vote of the employees, nonmembers who are covered by that contract can be required to pay a “fair share” fee toward the cost of negotiating and maintaining the agreement. The Janus case would overturn that precedent, allowing employees to benefit from a contract without having to pay toward maintaining it.


The Janus case is backed by the Koch brothers and other wealthy corporate chief executives who want to minimize the power of working men and women.

As a public school teacher, I am able to provide for my family thanks to the hard work of my union. I am happy to pay my union dues because I know that in Wisconsin, in the years after the public employee unions were busted there in 2011, median pay and benefits for teachers declined by more than $10,000 a year. Experienced teachers have fled the system there, to the detriment of students as well as employees.

The Janus case is not about giving people their “rights”; it’s about undermining the right of employees to be represented by a strong union that can negotiate for safe working conditions, decent health care, paid time off, job security, professional development, a fair salary, and retirement security.

Most importantly, my voice is threatened by the Janus case. My ability to join with others to stand up for myself and my students is threatened. My ability to advocate effectively for quality public education is threatened.


Workplace democracy still allows for individuals to choose not to join a union, but workplace democracy rests on the need to maintain our voices at a table -- to have a healthy, functioning union. So, YES, public unions should be allowed to charge nonmembers a fee to help pay for collective bargaining. It’s only fair.


Greg Sullivan

Norwood resident, research director at the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank

Greg Sullivan.Handout

A ruling in favor of the Illinois state employee who doesn’t want to pay an “agency fee” to cover the cost of nonpolitical union activities, like contract negotiations and workplace grievance procedures, would establish a precedent that could balance what has long been an uneven playing field in Massachusetts.

Public employees who choose not to join a collective bargaining unit can’t be forced to support union political activities. But in the 1977 Abood case, the Supreme Court ruled they can be required to pay the agency fee. Changing that would have little impact in most states. These “right-to-work” states already prohibit requiring public employees to pay fees or union membership dues.

Ending required agency fees would have a negative impact in states that aren’t right-to-work but where unions have little political clout. Since some workers would become “free riders,” enjoying the benefits of collective bargaining without paying for it, union membership would probably decline, and with it employees’ voice in how public agencies are run.


But given the political clout public sector unions already wield in Massachusetts, they hardly need this additional source of revenue. For example, in this heavily Democratic state, 18 of the 20 political action committees that gave the most to candidates for state and county offices in 2011-12 were labor organizations, and 85 percent of their contributions went to Democrats. That political influence -- also seen at the local level -- translates into favorable contracts that do not serve the public interest.

Guaranteed agency fee revenue makes it all too easy for unions to stray from members’ primary concerns and opine on all nature of political topics. A ruling in favor of the Illinois employee, Mark Janus, would require public employee unions to earn revenue by focusing on what their members care about, like pay and benefits.

With their outsized political clout and the generous contract benefits that come with it, public employee unions are the “1 percenters” in Massachusetts. Taxpayers would be the big beneficiaries of changing that dynamic.

No one should ever be banned from joining a union. By the same token, neither should a public employee be compelled to join or support a union with which he or she does not agree.

(This is an informal poll, not a scientific survey. Please vote only once.)

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.