I joined 65 friends, allies and supporters in June to honor Mark Janus on the fifth anniversary of his landmark win in the U.S. Supreme Court.
At a quiet Washington, D.C., reception hosted by our friends from the Institute for the American Worker, we applauded Mark and his all-star lawyers — Bill Messenger of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and Jacob Huebert of the Liberty Justice Center.
Thanks to the efforts of Mark and his legal team, millions of public employees in the United States are no longer forced to support a labor union as a condition of employment.
Mark is a modest man; during his brief remarks he spent most of the time thanking people in the room. But the case wouldn’t have happened without his courage.
So what has his courage accomplished?
The Supreme Court recognized that the constitutional protections of free speech and free association shield public employees from being forced to pay a union. The ruling applies to 20 million public employees. But it is especially relevant to the 7 million workers in 22 states that do not have a right-to-work law — states like California, Illinois and New York.
Our experience in Michigan six years prior to the Janus ruling was important. We passed a right-to-work law in 2012, but when only 1% of eligible workers left their union in the first year, we realized that employees needed help to exercise their new civil right. We provided legal support and information about the process. Public employees responded to our educational efforts; more than 30% of the Michigan Education Association’s members have so far decided to leave the union.
The insight that freedom is not self-executing fueled our preparations ahead of the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision. We could not be confident that unions or states would adequately inform employees of their new rights. So we worked with organizations across the country to identify public employees, set up educational websites and secure lawyers who could explain Janus rights. The day the Supreme Court released the decision, these groups sprang into action.
A significant amount of litigation flowed from Janus. Some court cases helped workers stymied by their unions’ stubborn refusal to let them leave. Others sought to expand the precedent, such as the Mackinac Center’s cases to extend Janus to airline employees and lawyers. (We await the day the Supreme Court agrees to review these two issues.) By my count, more than 12 organizations regularly litigate on behalf of unionized workers.
We also saw an opportunity to promote good labor policy in other states. Through our Workers for Opportunity initiative, we work with governors, attorneys general and state lawmakers. For example, the Michigan Civil Service Commission adopted a rule that gave state employees an annual reminder of their rights. More recently, Florida has made it easier for public employees to exit the union.
Five years in, these efforts are working. Nine states have changed policy to expand worker freedom. People in all 50 states have exercised their Janus rights. We estimate that 1.2 million workers have declined to join their union, keeping at least $720 million of their own money annually.