Jacques: Post ‘Janus,’ namesake still fights for worker rights

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News
Mark Janus

As a new U.S. Supreme Court term starts this week, Mark Janus is still feeling the effects of a pivotal June 2018 decision that bears his name

Even though he won his case before the nation’s High Court, effectively making all states right to work for millions of public-sector workers, Janus has dedicated his time to spreading the word to workers of the rights they now have. 

More:Our editorial: High Court stands for workers' freedoms

Because the unions, for obvious reasons, aren’t enthusiastic about members exercising their ability to opt out — and losing those membership dollars. Janus was in Michigan recently to speak at a Mackinac Center for Public Policy dinner. The center is also helping government workers around the country realize their new rights

While a health care and family services employee with the state of Illinois, Janus challenged his union, AFSCME, over the dues and fees he was forced to pay for services he didn’t want. Even when he had opted out of the union, he still was on the hook for “agency” fees. 

Janus believed this hindered his constitutional free speech rights since part of his paycheck was going toward collective bargaining with the government and other union efforts, which the court found to be inherently political.

People gather at the Supreme Court awaiting a decision in an Illinois union dues case, Janus vs. AFSCME, in Washington, Monday, June 25, 2018. The outcome of that case and several others were not announced Monday as the court's term comes to a close. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“I’m not anti-union,” Janus says. “I just believe in worker freedom. The positive thing about this is we’re defending the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

Janus is a senior fellow at the Illinois-based Liberty Justice Center, which represents citizens whose rights have been hindered by the government, and he says he bristles when he hears the term “post Janus.” He understands it’s going to take time for the court’s decision to take full effect, and he’s not going anywhere. 

“I’m here,” he says. “We know it’s going to take years before it’s finally implemented.” 

Michigan is a good example of how unions fight right to work. After this state’s law took effect in 2013, unions began searching for ways to keep workers in the fold. For example, the state’s largest teachers union — the Michigan Education Association — tried for several years to enforce its limited August window for letting teachers out of the union. Some teachers who thought they’d properly notified the union of their desire to leave were shocked to find union officials had turned their names over to collection agencies. 

Janus says this kind of resistance is rampant throughout the country, especially in the roughly half of states that hadn’t yet implemented right-to-work laws. States such as Oregon and Massachusetts are openly trying to pass legislation limiting the impact of the Janus decision. 

“You’ve heard of Miranda rights,” Janus says. “We have Janus rights.” 

Those rights include: 

  • If you work in the government, you have a right to join — or not join — a union.
  • Your employer should inform you of your options.
  • The government must get your permission to deduct union dues or fees from your paycheck.
  • If you are not a union member, you do not have to pay anything to the union at your workplace.

When asked what he thinks about the ongoing UAW strike against General Motors, Janus says he sees a significant difference between private- and public-sector unions. Private-sector unions, which are still impacted by Michigan’s right-to-work law, are subject to more checks and balances in dealing directly with businesses that can downsize or move. Whereas, in the public sector, it’s taxpayers — who don’t get a say in union negotiations — who bear the brunt of more costly contracts. 

At the heart of Janus’ work is simply letting government employees know they have options. 

“Just let the workers have their choice,” he says. 

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques