Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently signed into law the “Teacher Paycheck Protection” bill removing union membership as a condition of employment for that state’s teachers.
Supported by the Freedom Foundation, Arkansas’ action is the most recent defeat for public employee unions since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its landmark 2018 decision Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) that government employees could not be forced to join a union as a condition of their employment.
No less a labor union supporter than President Franklin Roosevelt questioned the need for public employee unions in a 1937 letter in the midst of The Great Depression:
“All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.”
AFSCME membership is declining nationwide, even in a traditional union stronghold like Illinois.
A similar measure moving through the Florida Legislature is criticized by National Education Association President Becky Pringle, who sees it as a violation of teachers’ rights:
“Here we are, looking at rights being taken away from union members, educators, workers, and students. The right to learn, the freedom to teach. Right here in our own country. In Florida, in Texas. The right to organize (is) being threatened in the state(s) of Kentucky, Arkansas, and Tennessee.”
The states she mentioned are, like Kansas, Right-to-Work States, where union membership is not compulsory for employment in either the private or public sectors.
The current status of Janus legislation in Kansas
While Kansas is a right-to-work state, there are restrictions that are now arguably unconstitutional in the wake of the Janus decision.
K.S.A. 75-5501 currently has an unconstitutional minimum 180-day dues-withholding requirement with no provision for the employee to resign and stop paying dues whenever they wish. The Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) only allows teachers to resign and stop paying dues in August. Restrictions of this nature effectively make union membership compulsory.
There have been several attempts to protect public employee rights in the Legislature, but teachers’ and other public employees’ rights are still not recognized in Kansas, but legislators are not giving up.
Kansas House K-12 Education Budget Chair Kristey Williams is enthusiastic about protecting teachers:
“I am impressed by the wide variety of educational bills Governor Sanders has signed into law and would favor many of those good ideas in Kansas. As for the Paycheck Protection Law, I’m a fan!”