Flush from the 1942 British victory at El Alamein, having defeated Rommel in Egypt, Winston Churchill said: “Now, this is not the end. No, it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
I thought of this statement all summer.
As you know, advocates for freedom of association celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME this June. With that ruling, the court affirmed that the First Amendment protects 5 million public employees from financially supporting a union against their will.
It is important to take stock of significant victories and to acknowledge those who, like Mark Janus, secured the win. But it would be a grave mistake to assume that a significant victory — in this case, a Supreme Court decision — is the final word.
We learned this lesson after Michigan became a right-to-work state in 2013. The Legislature passed, and Gov. Rick Snyder signed, historic legislation. Unions wasted no time mobilizing a resistance. Steve Cook, then president of the Michigan Education Association, announced the union would use “any legal means” to collect money from school employees, and the union deployed multiple strategies to do just that. Union officials renegotiated school contracts to require dues for another 10 years, they insisted members could only resign in August, and they harassed those who stopped paying dues through shaming and hiring collection agencies. In the first year after right-to-work was enacted, the MEA boasted that only one percent of its members had left the union.
Once we recognized that union obstruction would prevent employees from exercising their rights, the Mackinac Center launched a legal and educational campaign that secured the free association rights of tens of thousands of employees.
So what are the relevant lessons in a post-Janus world?
Even before the Supreme Court took up that case, the Mackinac Center recognized that a good decision would be an empty victory if it wasn’t vigorously enforced at the state level, and we began preparing for this moment. Today, Mackinac Center policy experts are analyzing the reverberations of the ruling, our marketing team is educating workers about their options and our litigators are challenging the illegal barriers unions have raised (most recently in New Jersey).
The effort to expand worker freedom will require persistence. Michigan’s right-to-work law has required years of work to ensure the rights of employees since its enactment. The MEA’s membership is now down 30 percent, demonstrating that many workers prefer not to financially support a union.
A winning effort increases the number of allies. Mackinac Center supporters can be proud to have enabled us to work with leaders across the country who are responding to the Janus ruling.
Worker freedom is not a one-state solution; accomplishing lasting government neutrality in labor relations requires that the same idea is adopted in other states. Michigan can be a leader in labor reform, but the work will be more enduring if it spreads to states like California, Illinois and New Jersey. In short, it’s time to move beyond the end of the beginning.