National Consumers League

Trump and Undermining Public Sector Unions

By NCL Public Policy intern Melissa Cuddington

This summer has been rife with razor-thin 5-4 Supreme Court rulings. Many of these have been one-vote margins because of the newly added conservative justice and Trump appointee, Neil Gorsuch.

For example, a 5-4 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME at the end of June delivered the dreaded but anticipated blow to public sector unions and the Trump Administration’s goal of weakening the bargaining power and influence of working men and women. Janus, an employee at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, asked the court to overrule a 40-year-old Supreme Court decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, requiring public sector workers to contribute to union dues toward collective bargaining costs, such as contract negotiations, but excuses them from paying dues to support political advocacy. Janus argued his $45 monthly fee to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was unconstitutional. He said that the fees infringed on his First Amendment rights, and that, in the case of public employees whose contract negotiations are with the government, the fees were a form of political advocacy.

The Court agreed with Janus and reversed the requirement.

In the wake of the very unfortunate Janus decision, the Administration has issued several executive orders to restrict union activity in the federal government. These include restricting the time that employees can spend on union activity, implementing rules about day-to-day operations and changing government policy at the agency level.

Union leaders at the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) have objected loudly, filing a lawsuit against the Trump Administration to protest his executive order regarding “official time.” Trump’s executive order addresses the use of “official time” to compensate union workers for time spent on representational work.  

Why is it okay for a worker to benefit from better wages, working conditions, benefits like time off and sick leave and not have to help pay for the costs of negotiating those benefits?  Janus and the subsequent Executive Orders have understandably sparked outraged from federal government unions and other advocacy groups like NCL that support working families. One strategy could be, per the OpEd in the New York Times, having state and local governments directly pay unions for their expenses.

Unions are critical to the smooth operations of the federal government, effectively fighting for worker benefits and increased bargaining power for the many hardworking federal employees. The NCL has a long history of fighting for consumers, workers and public sector unions. We regret the Janus decision and its effect of undermining union bargaining power. We join with AFGE and all federal workers in supporting their voice in the workplace.