After their victory in last year’s Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME, it should be easy for workers to exercise their right to opt out of paying a union. But what should have been a decisive victory for all public workers has turned into an ongoing battle. Unions have resisted the decision, doing whatever they can to force workers to stay, whether it be through scare tactics or the force of new laws.
One such law is New Jersey’s Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act, passed in May 2018. Under this law, a public worker’s right to opt out is restricted to a mere 10-day “window period” following the anniversary of that person’s “date of hire.” To make matters more confusing, the language defining “date of hire” is vague, making it harder to determine when those 10 days actually are. This law was enacted a month before the Supreme Court’s ruling, in an attempt to make it harder for union members to exercise their right of choice. After New Jersey enacted this law, workers who tried to opt out of paying a union were still subjected to their employer withholding money for the union’s benefit.
Jody Lutter, a psychiatric nurse in Essex County; Lisa Grega, an employee of The College of New Jersey; and Michael Kopie, an employee of the state Department of Transportation, were three of these workers. After being blocked from opting out, all three turned to the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, which filed suit against their respective unions.
“My voice is definitely not heard being a member of this union” said Michael Kopie. “I want to be able to withdraw from this union any time I want, not in a 10-day window.”
While the workers are hoping to opt out of their union, they also want the union to refund the money it took from them after they first tried to opt out. All three hope that this case will allow others to exercise their freedom to opt out, and have greater implications moving forward.
If the court rules in their favor, that will mean a lot for worker freedom in New Jersey and across the country. By calling for an end to the window requirement, Lutter, Grega, Kopie and Mackinac Center Legal Foundation hope to set a precedent for hundreds of thousands of other workers who are trapped by similar obstacles. The Janus decision should have made it easy for workers to opt out, since it implied that unions need to get consent from workers before they can take even a cent out of their paycheck. Instead, workers must continue to fight for their constitutional rights.