When Mark Janus began work as a child support specialist for the state of Illinois, no one ever asked him whether he wanted to pay fees to the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. He learned he was part of the AFSCME union when he saw his first paycheck. It showed a deduction of approximately $45 going to the collective bargaining unit.
“I had never signed a union card. I’d never made a pledge,” he said. “I found out everybody has to pay or you can’t work there.”
For nearly 10 years, Janus watched as the union collected hundreds of dollars from his paychecks. And then, the Liberty Justice Center, a law firm affiliated with Illinois Policy Institute, agreed to represent him. They filed a lawsuit that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Last year, they won the landmark case that bears his name, Janus v. AFSCME. The high court determined that requiring public employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment violates their First Amendment rights. The court found that everything public employee unions do is inherently political, and compelling membership and the payment of fees therefore violates employees constitutional rights to free speech and freedom to associate.
“The rest is history,” Janus said.
On Monday morning, the Illinois man testified before a Kansas Senate committee SB 175. The bill would allow public employees in Kansas to opt out of paying union dues by providing a written request to their employer. It also would require public employers to annually notify employees they have a right to leave the union at any time.
Kansas is a right to work state, so employees aren’t required to join unions in order to work in any role, including public employment. However, some unions, like the Kansas National Educators Association, require members to continue paying dues for up to a year after requesting to leave the union, Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert told the Senate Commerce committee.
“The Constitutional conflict is that employees are not free to leave whenever they wish,” Trabert said.
In a pointed exchange, Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat, said the only advocates for the bill are Koch-funded groups. Mark Janus is now a senior fellow at the Liberty Justice Center, and Trabert is President of the Kansas Policy Institute, a free market think tank. Trabert said KPI, which owns the Sentinel, is funded by hundreds of Kansans and the organization does not divulge the names of its donors because the US Supreme Court has ruled that Americans have the right to private free speech.
“Are you aware of any court litigation currently in the state of Kansas?” Holland asked. “Where is our Janus?”
It’s a matter of being proactive versus reactive, Patrick Wright, the Vice President of Legal Affairs at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan, told the committee. He said there are currently 20 lawsuits in California, and six in New Jersey.
“Kansas’s day will come as will every other state’s,” he said. “People are being forced to provide support that they don’t want to.”
John Nave testified against the bill on behalf of the Kansas State AFL-CIO. He said the legislation serves no purpose in Kansas, because it is a right to work state.
“You will weaken the collective voices of our firefighters, teachers, corrections officers and law enforcement,” Nave said. “It serves no purpose to weaken their voices to bargain for their life, hard-earned wages, healthcare and the ability to retire with dignity.”