Should public employees be required to pay union dues?
To the Editor:
Unions are decrying the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Janus vs. AFSCME case that says public employees cannot be forced to pay union “fees” that are used to support causes with which they do not agree.
What law allows government workers to join a union and bargain collectively? Many people think that it is the National Labor Relations Act of 1915 also known as the Wagner Act.
Ironically, union bosses are invoking their idol President Franklin D. Roosevelt in responding to the decision. However, in FDR’s press conference on July 9, 1937 he made it clear that public employee unions would make it impossible for government administrators to fully represent the interests of the taxpayers.
To make sure his remarks were understood, the president issued a letter on August 16, 1937. In it he wrote, “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service”. In addition Roosevelt made it clear that “militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees”.
However, in repayment of union support in his narrow victory over Richard Nixon, President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 10988 that afforded public employees the same rights as private sector employees.
Nevertheless, that did not stop President Ronald Regan from firing all air traffic controllers who struck in 1981 and banning them from ever being rehired.
Here in Rhode Island a law was enacted in 1958 that allows government employees to unionize and bargain collectively. It specifically forbids a strike by public employees especially police, firefighters and teachers. That has not stopped teachers from striking most notably in Warwick where a judge finally had union leaders arrested and jailed. He had a change of heart and ordered them released if they promised to go back to the bargaining table. When an agreement was finally reached the same judge ordered the pay increases be made retroactively which many teachers regarded as a windfall.
Nor has it stopped epidemics of “blue flu” among police departments and “sickouts” among firefighters.
Unions enjoy special status except in right to work states of requiring employees to join even if they did not participate in the election that made the union their collective bargaining agent. In addition employers are required to confiscate union dues from workers’ pay and turn it over to the union. No other organization enjoys this privilege.
In one company I worked for non-union middle managers and executives were “encouraged” to contribute an amount based on salary level to the political action committee. When I told my boss that I did not agree with some of the candidates and causes to which the PAC donated he told me it was in my “best interest” to contribute. At least I had to write a check; the money was not deducted from my paycheck.
Given the non-conventional nature of the present administration, I wonder if President Trump has considered revoking JFK’s executive order especially in light of the Janus decision.
Richard J. August