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H.R. 6238 (115th): Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2018

Should employees covered by a union be allowed to forego paying their dues if they disagree with the union?


Mark Janus works for Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services as a child support specialist. But Janus opposed many of the policies and positions held by the union which was supposed to represent him. He refused to pay his mandatory union dues of $535 per year, in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Court last month, in their 5–4 decision Janus v. AFSCME, ruled in Janus’s favor: public-sector employees can no longer be forced to pay fees to the union which represented them. This overturned a 41-year unanimous precedentwhich had made such payments mandatory.

What the bill does

The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act [H.R. 6238 + S. 3151] would overturn this decision, returning to the four-decade status quo in which public-sector union fees were mandatory.

It was introduced mere hours after the Court’s June 27 ruling, by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA17) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the court’s decision was ideological, permitting millions of Americans to mooch off of the fruits of union expenditures they refuse to themselves contribute to.

“The first responders, corrections officers, police officers, snow plow drivers and firefighters, teachers, sanitation workers — all public service workers, public servants — who go out there every single day for you, for me, for our kids,” Rep. Cartwright said in the Weekly Democratic Address. “This 5–4 vote, this decision, undermines their very freedom to negotiate for decent pay and fair workplaces.”

“Forty years of the fabric of American law, torn up,” Cartwright continued. “This decision enables free-riding by those who benefit from union agreements but don’t want to pay their fair share.”

“Let me be clear: Labor unions give workers a collective voice to regular people to gain better wages, better health care, and a better future with a secure retirement. Strong public unions built the middle class in our country and shaped the life of every American by negotiating worker rights.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the court’s decision was correctly deciding on First Amendment grounds. If you disagree with the union you happen to fall under and so wish not to pay dues to them, that’s your free speech right.

“Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates [the First Amendment], and in most contexts, any such effort would be universally condemned,” Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his majority opinion.

“Suppose, for example, that the State of Illinois required all residents to sign a document expressing support for a particular set of positions on controversial public issues — say, the platform of one of the major political parties,” Alito continued. “No one, we trust, would seriously argue that the First Amendment permits this.”

“Perhaps because such compulsion so plainly violates the Constitution, most of our free speech cases have involved restrictions on what can be said, rather than laws compelling speech. But measures compelling speech are at least as threatening.”

Odds of passage

The House version has 33 bipartisan cosponsors, 32 Democrats and one Republican: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA8). Fitzpatrick represents a union-heavy district in Pennsylvania. It awaits a potential vote in the Education and the Workforce Committee.

The Senate version also has exactly 33 cosponsors, though all Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents. It awaits a potential vote in the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Though it stands no chance of passage in the current Republican-controlled Congress, it could serve as a template several months from now if Democrats regain control of one or both chambers.

Last updated Jul 18, 2018. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jun 27, 2018.

Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2018

This bill requires the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) to make a determination as to whether a state substantially provides for certain rights and responsibilities applicable to public employees, such as granting such employees the right to form or join a labor organization and to bargain collectively, and if the state does not substantially provide for such rights and responsibilities, then such state shall be subject to nationwide standards prescribed by the FLRA to protect public employee rights.

No employer, emergency services employee, or law enforcement officer may engage in a lockout, strike, or any other organized job action of which a reasonably probable result is a measurable disruption of the delivery of emergency or public safety services. No labor organization may violate or attempt to violate this prohibition.