While a new presidential administration in the nation’s capital brings serious concerns about labor policy at the federal level, there are new and exciting opportunities in the states. Many officials there are working to insulate their employees from labor union infringement on employees’ constitutional rights, and the Mackinac Center will continue to help them find their way.
In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME paved new ground for public employees in the 28 states without right-to-work protections. In its ruling, the court restored their constitutional rights to earn a living free from forced government unionism. Since that time, state officials across the country – including those in states with right-to-work laws – have been unpacking the decision. They have been exploring whether their state complies with Janus and how they might expand upon these rights for public workers.
The Mackinac Center’s national Workers for Opportunity initiative has been at the forefront of advancing the worker freedom agenda across the country, collaborating with lawmakers in over 15 states in just two years to lay the groundwork for bold reform. This year, the prospects across the 50 states are promising. More liberty-minded policymakers are occupying state House and Senate seats, and more allies of the worker freedom movement hold the governors’ mansion.
Florida, for example, is well-positioned to become a model state for worker freedom. Lawmakers there, working closely with allies on the ground and the Workers for Opportunity team, passed legislation in the House in 2020 to properly implement Janus. Under this measure, Florida public employees could not be presumed to consent to union dues without first providing that clear consent directly to their employer, annually. Before the bill the bill could move to the Senate, the COVID-19 pandemic intervened. But look for the Senate to take it up this year.
Missouri lawmakers similarly pursued legislation to protect Janus rights in 2020, stalling only when the Legislature was forced to suspend business and focus on the pandemic. We expect to see leaders in the House and Senate return to the worker freedom agenda during this new legislative session. Results from the 2020 election suggest that it has some momentum, as a number of new and returning lawmakers can be expected to support it.
The Workers for Opportunity initiative is working with lawmakers in seven other new states in 2021 to support legislative efforts to expand employee rights. These efforts include reforms like those Florida and Missouri are pursuing. But they also include ideas such as expanding right-to-work for private employees, improving workers’ voting rights (including union recertification requirements) and eliminating union opt-out windows that let employees leave a union only at certain times of the year.
Indeed, 2021 may be the biggest year for worker freedom that the country has seen in quite some time. The Mackinac Center’s Workers for Opportunity initiative, which is the only multistate labor reform effort of its kind, should be proud of its leading role in making this a possibility.