On Tuesday, September 25, prominent lawyer William Messenger spoke to a lively crowd of attendees at a Caesar Rodney Institute mixer in Wilmington. Messenger, alongside CRI Chief Economist Dr. John Stapleford, spoke about Messenger’s recent victory in the Supreme Court case Janus v AFSCME and laid out the possible political repercussions of decision.
Janus, for which Messenger provided legal council, ruled it illegal under the First Amendment for public unions to require compulsory agency fees as a condition for employment. The decision overturned a 40-year-old ruling to the contrary, Abood v Detroit Board of Education, which had upheld the practice.
Messenger opened his remarks with a note of encouragement before recounting the efforts of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRWLDF) to bring about the ruling, comparing it to splitting a tough and knotty log. The organization had spent the last four decades trying cases with little to no obvious progress before recent critical court decisions paved the way for their Janus victory.
The next step, said Messenger, is to enforce, extend, and educate about the Janus ruling. Unions, he said, are putting up roadblocks to stop employees from exercising their Janus rights across the nation, including in Delaware. He cited a law that he said limits employees’ ability to revoke union dues from being deducted from their paychecks, allowing only a 10-day window.
For Messenger, the biggest threats to the Janus case are loopholes and legal objections brought by unions and union-friendly state governments. In addition to court battles, he advocated for efforts to educate workers on the Janus ruling, and arguing further cases to expand Janus to private sector employees.
Finally, he said his sights were set on ending what he called “monopoly representation” in the public sector, which he said violates the First Amendment in the same way as Abood. “If you think of what the government’s doing, they’re dictating that you as a public employee have to accept a union as your agent for lobbying the government. It would be no different from the government appointing a mandatory lobbyist to speak for you.” The implication of a ruling accepting that position, he said, would be “huge”.
Stapleford, who gave Messenger’s introductory speech, lauded Messenger and his progress, announcing CRI’s intent to focus on public education reform in the next year. “With the Janus decision,” he said, “the campaign financing stranglehold that the teacher’s union had over the legislature has been broken. So kudos to Bill Messenger for that.”
When reached for comment, Shelley Meadowcroft of the Delaware State Education Association denied that the Janus ruling had any effect on the organization’s political efforts. “PAC money is voluntarily given by members on top of their dues and that money is only used for political outreach. Our union dues can’t be used for political money, and vice versa.”
In fact, she said, DSEA experienced a membership boost when they stopped collecting agency fees. When they reached out to let non-members know that they would no longer be charging agency fees, Meadowcroft said that at least 40-50 of the non-members signed up for membership.