Guest opinion column by County Supervisor Sue Frost–
Last month, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in the case of Janus v. AFSCME, ruling that the First Amendment protects public employees from being required to pay money to a union without their consent. As this was a high profile case that drastically changes the way unions operate, I wanted to use my monthly article to discuss the history of this issue, how I believe this will impact Sacramento County, and why I support the decision.
In 1977, the Supreme Court ruled that even though public employees cannot be required to financially support its political activities, they are still required to pay the union a “fair-share” fee to pay for the union’s collective bargaining activities (the costs the union incurs in negotiating their wages, pensions, benefits, work conditions, grievance procedures, etc.). This fair-share fee was only a small bit less than paying the full fee, and as such, less than 800 of our roughly 11,000 county employees elected to only pay the fair-share fee.
But now with this latest ruling, any union member can cease paying the entirety of their union dues while still receiving all the benefits of being a union member. New employees will be given the option of whether to pay into the union or not, and existing employees can leave the union whenever their union contract has to be renegotiated (every three years).
From the County of Sacramento’s perspective nothing will change — we will still negotiate contracts with unions just as we always have. But from the union’s perspective everything is changing. Almost half of our union employees have contracts up for renegotiation this year, and I expect a large number of employees to opt out of their union dues. This will force the unions to cut staff and limit the number of donations they make to political campaigns.
It is important to note that this Supreme Court decision does not impact all public sector unions the same. Public safety unions like the Sheriffs, Firefighters, and Probation are not worried about the impact, because they focus on service to their members, and don’t tend to plunge into unrelated political fights that their membership doesn’t support. I do not expect union membership in these public safety organizations to dwindle. And while the only union employees that work for the City of Citrus Heights are those that work for the police department, a large amount of public employees from the County of Sacramento, State of California, and the San Juan Unified School District live and work in Citrus Heights.
I agree with the Supreme Court decision because I fully believe any person should be able to have a career teaching children, fighting fires, or being any other form of public servant without having to pay a private third party for the opportunity to do so. I also believe it will bring some real benefits to the employees of Sacramento County.
Now, unions will have to work harder to justify their importance to the employees. They will need to ensure they are offering real value to their members, and they will be less likely to pick controversial political fights that end up angering their members who disagree. Public labor unions should be encouraging membership and dues on the merit of the benefits they provide, rather than require employees to pay what is essentially a payroll tax.
There are other good things about this ruling as well, such as lower wage workers seeing a boost to their paycheck and making it easier for them to support their families. The average union dues are over $500 annually — which means workers who decided to stop paying dues will effectively get an annual raise. This money could be the difference between starting a college account for their kids or not, being able to reduce debt, or simply feeling more secure that the bills are taken care of.
I have no burning desire for unions to die off, or even to shrink. But I do have a desire to ensure that the employees of Sacramento County are given options regarding what they can do with their hard earned paychecks. The unions can come out of this situation alright, just so long as they truly listen to their members, deliver the types of services people need, and stay out of political campaigns that their membership aren’t fully in support of.
Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost formerly served as a Citrus Heights councilwoman and currently represents District 4, which includes Citrus Heights. She will host her next community meeting in Citrus Heights at City Hall on Sept. 20, at 6 p.m. A county-wide “digital townhall” on Facebook Live will also be streamed on the Supervisor’s Facebook page on July 23 at 6 p.m.
Want to share your own thoughts on this topic or another local issue? Submit a letter to the editor or opinion column for publication: Click here