Teacher Unions Across America Face Uncertain Future After Supreme Court Decision

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Zachery Schmidt Contributor
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Teacher unions across the country face an uncertain future after the Supreme Court’s decision not to force workers to pay mandatory fees to cover union collecting bargaining costs.

The Janus v. AFSCME 31 case dealt with Mark Janus, an Illinois state worker, arguing that the state violated his First Amendment rights by making him pay agency fees to a union because he did not want to join it. Janus believed paying agency fees forced him to speak through the union.

“This is a fundamental defeat for unions. There’s no sugar-coating it; this is a huge defeat,” Nat Malkus, deputy director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller.

The Court’s case 5-4 decision on Wednesday to overturn a 41-year-old precedent said non-union member’s free speech rights were violated “by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”

This ruling did not come as a shock to Malkus; however, the Court including a First Amendment argument requiring unions to get consent before receiving any fees from members surprised him.

“Requiring members to get positive consent to get any fees from members … makes it much harder for unions to retain membership and gain new members,” Malkus said.

Trevor Burrus, a constitutional studies research fellow at the Cato Institute, believes this ruling could cost teacher unions tens of millions of dollars nationally.

“For 40 years, they’ve taken unknown amount of money from people who did not want to contribute to them … and used it to better do their bargaining activities, which included setting rules for class sizes, tenure and all sorts of things that affect education policy,” Burrus told TheDC. “They’ll have less resources to fight for those things.”

The National Education Association (NEA) president Eskelsen Garcia told the Washington Post that “it fears losing about 200,000 members this year and possibly 100,000 more next year.” America’s biggest union plans to cut $50 million from its budget over the next two years.

Malkus predicts that teacher unions could lose anywhere from 15 percent to 65 percent of members.

“Membership dropping depends on a state’s union member culture and the strength of state’s teacher union affiliate,” Malkus said.

The 22 states requiring agency fees will be affected by the Janus ruling more than right-to-work states. For example, the California Teachers Association cut its 2018-2019 budget by more than $20 million because the union estimates it could lose as many as 23,000 members.

However, teacher unions in right-to-work states will also see a decline in revenue. For example, Wisconsin and Michigan teacher union dues decreased between 33 and 50 percent, according to the Washington Post.

Politically, teacher unions will not be able to support the Democratic Party as much with its revenue stream loss. Teacher unions have a history of shifting its focus once a state does not require agency fees. For example, in right-to-work states from 1980 to 2016 teacher unions shifted its focus to keeping and recruiting members.

“They’ll be smaller. … There are questions about whether their political identity will soften,” Malkus said. “One the one hand, they could seek to build a bigger tent with weaker ties to remote political positions and try to make a clear value propositions to members by focusing on local issues. I think that would be good. I think that would serve members better.”

After the ruling came down, President Donald Trump tweeted his support for the Court’s decision.

“Supreme Court rules in favor of non-union workers who are now, as an example, able to support a candidate of his or her choice without having those who control the Union deciding for them. Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!”