Policing Pensions — Pension Underfunding Threatens to Widen the Inequality Divide

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Where was Alito when Abood needed him most? That would be Newark, New Jersey where future Surpreme Court Justice Samuel Anthony Alito Jr was clerking for Third Court appeals judge Leonard I. Garth. Nearly a half century would go by before D. Louis Abood received justice. In 1969, he and other Detroit public school teachers rose up against being compelled to pay dues to the Detroit Federation of Teachers union as a condition of their employment. The fees funded the union’s activities that included collective bargaining, contract administration, grievance adjustment, and political lobbying. Court after court in Michigan begged to differ landing the case to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on November 9, 1976. The May 23, 1977 decision unanimously held that non-union public employees could be required to pay labor union fees for collective bargaining but not political purposes. The petitioner’s First Amendment rights had not been violated.

Numerous appeals to Abood v Detroit Board of Education have risen through the courts in recent years. None has ever prevailed given the makeup of the court. The death of Antonin Scalia and subsequent appointment of Neil Gorsuch changed that.

Mark Janus’ name will forever mark the ruling that reversed the 1977 decision. He works as a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Janus sought the return of $3,000 in fees paid to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) arguing that the dues he had paid violated his First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on February 26, 2018.

On Wednesday, June 27, 2018, Justice Alito’s 5-4 majority opinion in Janus v AFSCME held that, “Compelling a person to subsidize the speech of other private speakers raises similar First Amendment con­cerns. As Jefferson famously put it, ‘to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhor[s] is sinful and tyrannical.’ We have therefore recognized that a ‘‘significant impingement on First Amendment rights’’ occurs when public employees are required to provide financial support for a union that ‘takes many positions during collective bargaining that have powerful political and civic consequences.’

For students across the America, it did not have to come to this. In 1972, the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teachers’ union, became the first national education organization with a political action committee. To this day, nearly all of NEA’s political monies are funneled to Democrats who comprise less than half its membership. Together with the second-largest union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), they represent about five million workers. In this first chart, you see that the misrepresentation via contributions has persisted across all teachers’ unions. Little wonder many fresh graduates into the most noble of all fields have no interest in joining a union and that’s a shame.

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