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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

After Janus, what happens?

Wisconsin’s teachers union has lost half its members since Act 10, which cut agency fees and limited collective bargaining, passed in 2011.

As expected, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that public-employee unions, including teachers’ unions, can’t force non-members to pay “agency fees.” The fees are supposed to cover collective-bargaining costs, preventing “free riders,” not political advocacy.

But public-employee unions bargain for public policy choices, Justice Alito wrote in the majority opinion, notes Kevin Mahnken on The 74.

Given the unique influence of teachers unions in the public sector, Alito observed, mandatory support for bargaining is like a compelled statement on particular questions of education policy. He enumerated a long list of such questions: “Should teacher pay be based on seniority, the better to retain experienced teachers? Or should schools adopt merit pay systems to encourage teachers to get the best results out of their students? Should districts transfer more experienced teachers to the lower-performing schools that may have the greatest need for their skills, or should those teachers be allowed to stay where they have put down roots? Should teachers be given tenure protection and, if so, under what conditions? On what grounds and pursuant to what procedures should teachers be subject to discipline or dismissal? How should teacher performance and student progress be measured — by standardized tests or other means?”

In addition, the court ruled that “workers must take the affirmative step of opting into union membership, rather than opting out,” Mahnken notes. That could make it hard to recruit new members.

National Education Association membership is falling in right-to-work states and rising in agency-fee states, writes Mike Antonucci. Janus makes every state a right-to-work state.

Union membership will fall, by as much as one third, labor experts predict. That means less money for unions and less political clout.

Half of Wisconsin teachers quit the union after it became a right-to-work state in 2011, write Bradley D. Marianno and Katharine Strunk in Education Next. In Michigan, which also dropped agency fees, membership fell by 21 percent.

Unions will work harder to persuade teachers that membership is worth their dollars. Expect more wildcat strikes like the walkouts in right-to-work states such as West Virginia and Oklahoma.

With unemployment rates very low, teachers who aren’t satisfied with their pay or working conditions will walk out and find other jobs.

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