Unions Stopped Advocating For Workers And Became A Political Arm Of The Democratic Party Long Ago

Frank Ricci | New Haven Battalion Chief, Union President

The ruling in Janus v. AFSCME demonstrates the political divisions in our nation. At some point, we stopped talking to each other and started blaming each other. Unions are wrong to condemn the right to work lobby and influential laws firms like the Fairness Center without looking inward first. This may seem like a strange statement coming from a union boss, however the right to work lobby didn’t have standing to bring a case against a union without a client.

Can you name one employee or union member that would have an issue with a union advocating for better pay, benefits and working conditions? Such advocacy is supposed to be the goal of any union. Unions were once the protectors of middle class workers for issues concerning employment. Now we find them at the front of every social issue. This has resulted in leaving behind the very workers who pay dues for representation at work. Janus, Friedrichs and a host of other litigants were not created by the right. They were pushed from the left. Today, with the polarization in politics, many unions have moved away from being issue advocates and are now closer to being the political arm of the Democratic Party. This is not the only reason for the shift and focus on litigation against unions.

As with any bureaucracy the larger they become the further away from the core mission they seem to move. Soon the bureaucracy is more about protecting itself over protecting the rights of its members. We cannot sacrifice the individual in the interest of collectivism. That does not mean that a union has to sacrifice its goals. The union should always be an issue advocate without regard to political party. I have found most members can respect and reconcile issues even when the union goes against their own political beliefs, however the advocacy has to be based strictly on the work place. This level of understanding takes proper communication and can only work when the member feels their voice is being heard.

The decision in Janus is narrowly tailored to the issues outlined in the case. The question of full union membership was not before the court, nor was any restriction from the political activity of unions involving full members. The interesting legal aspect in this case is the courts have already ruled that public employees do not have an absolute right when it comes to the first amendment and that a balancing test is required to weigh free speech issues with the government’s interests to deliver services. And now the Supreme Court has established an absolute right under the First Amendment.

The crux of this case involved union members who pay shop agency fees and whether requiring such fees violates the first amendment. This is a fight between how these individuals are viewed. Janus would view himself as a forced rider while AFSCME views his case as a way to legitimize free riders. There are also plenty of high drama often found in SCOTUS cases playing on weighty constitutional issues. Shop agency fees were determined legal by a 40-year precedent in the Abood decision, which has now been overturned.

Unions should use the case as a wake-up call and realize they fail their members when they disregard their mission. Party loyalty at all cost has a high cost with shifting political winds. It is time the nation’s unions take notice. When a political party has your unconditional allegiance, the party neglects to see your issues as a priority.

Most public safety unions have demonstrated that they will stand with those who stand with them. They understand that public safety transcends partisan politics and they will not declare absolute loyalty to any particular party. This is why it is highly usual to find a cop or firefighter who pays a shop agency fee. You would be hard pressed to find public safety unions weighing in on social issues like a $15 minimum wage, abortion or gun control.

And this is why these union continue to grow.

The Janus decision will have a significant impact on non-public safety unions resulting in the loss of millions of dollars that will curb their political influence. Hopefully, instead of demonizing the right, they will be asking how they lost those members in the first place?

Frank Ricci was the lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Ricci v. DeStefano. He is an advisory board member for Fire Engineering, a battalion chief and union president in New Haven, Conn. Ricci’s opinions are not related to and do not reflect those of his employer of the professional organizations in which is involved.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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