There is good news for government employees in one more state! Where Alaska led the way last fall, it seems that Texas is now following suit.
By way of background: thanks to the 2018 Janus vs AFSCME ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, public employees who work for a local, state, or federal government entity – a state agency, public school district, city hall, or another government body – can no longer be forced to join a union and pay membership dues or fees.
In August 2019, Alaska began taking steps to finally operate in compliance with the Janus ruling. Alaska’s attorney general issued an opinion highlighting how the state’s practices for union dues deductions violate the Supreme Court’s mandate. Several weeks later, a state administrative order was issued to ensure no government employee pays union dues unless they explicitly give consent to the state. But within weeks, the matter was tied up in state court, and the administration’s efforts to honor workers’ First Amendment rights were halted. In early October 2019, government unions secured a restraining order from a state court judge that prevented Alaska’s state government from implementing the Janus ruling.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the attorney general of Texas plans to release an advisory opinion soon that could lead to opt-in public sector membership similar to what was proposed in Alaska. First, he suggests (as did Alaska’s AG) that states should take fee authorization directly from employees without using unions as middlemen. He specifically suggests using language such as, “I recognize that I have a First Amendment right to associate, including the right not to associate . . . I am not compelled to pay a labor organization any money as a condition of employment, and I do not have to sign this consent form.”
Second, he agrees that a one-time waiver for authorization is not enough. He joins Alaska’s AG in recommending that waivers be renewed annually, thus giving public employees the continuing opportunity to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Alaska Policy Forum commends this development in Texas and encourages government bodies everywhere to take actions to protect workers’ rights. Allowing public employees to use their voices by freely opting-in or opting-out of a union without fear of retribution is a constitutional right. In Alaska, this constitutional right is currently being blocked by a restraining order requested by government unions.
The decision to join or financially support a union is an important and deeply personal one for anyone who takes a government job. Before deciding how to exercise their First Amendment rights, it is important for public employees to know what is at stake and what rights they have.
- Public sector employers should inform employees of their rights
- Government employees have the right to decide whether or not to join a union
- Employees cannot be coerced into paying any funds to a union
- The government must get employees’ explicit permission to deduct union dues from paychecks
- Employer-provided benefits are not tied to union membership