Public Employees’ First Amendment Rights Shouldn’t Be a Secret » Publications » Washington Policy Center

Enter an employee break room. On the wall or nailed to a cabinet, you’ll often notice large, small-print posters of various employee rights. Notices for many workplace protections are obligatory, and we agree that it is important for employees to easily access and understand their rights. A optional poster however, you may not see one detailing a public employee’s right to join or not join a union. This First Amendment right was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME.

It’s been almost four years since the Supremes ruled it unconstitutional to require public sector workers to pay a union as a condition of employment. Yet many employees are still unaware of protection.

It is not a surprise. The state is not actively getting the word out to workers about their First Amendment rights, clarified by the justices on June 27, 2018. Neither have public servant unions in our state.

Unions make their money on public sector employees and would no doubt like to keep them in the dark. Workers who opt out of unions have even been vilified, as have people who try to obtain information about the Janus case or direct them to an easy-to-use website called The site, managed by the Freedom Foundationoffers workers information on so-called Janus rights, providing them with an easy-to-use opt-out tool.

Taxpayers are the ones who pay public employees’ paychecks, not union bosses or lawmakers. And public sector workers need to know that they don’t need to lower their wages or belong to a union that funds them for policies they don’t agree with to keep their jobs. Washington voters can also get rid of politicians if they feel they are not treating workers fairly.

Unions could win the allegiance of public workers, giving those who want nothing to do with them a reason to keep giving them money. They might stop pursuing political agendas. In other words, they can become sensitive to their members and make themselves attractive to potential members so that they gain voluntary membership – something that every other private organization (and these unions are private organizations) must do.

Instead, obstacles that make it difficult to break up a union, pressure on employees and a political drumbeat that continues to divide have been the mode of operation since the Janus ruling.

Even public workers who learn about their Janus rights and don’t want to join a union struggle. From delicate fine print on union cards and opt-out periods that last only a few days each year until the certified mail return indicating their decision to leave, the unions try to prevent the workers from exercising their First Amendment rights.

Constance Cooke, a high school teacher in Washington State, says, “My father was a union leader for many years and I stand ready to support those who fight for fair wages and working conditions. However, I am not prepared to support an organization with an agenda I disagree with. She adds that the Janus decision should facilitate the opt-out.

With unions circumventing the ruling and flouting workers’ constitutional rights, and politicians failing to defend employees, stepping down is not easy. The Janus ruling is a victory for workers. It is a shame that four years later many are still unaware of the historic decision, whether they are kept in the dark about their rights or have those rights circumvented through political games.

Government employees should be guaranteed freedom of association and expression, and they should be told that they are not required by the government to donate part of their salary to a union with which they may or may not be in order to have a public job in the state of Washington. .

Even accused criminals are informed of their rights before their arrest. It is time that public employees were guaranteed to be informed of their First Amendment rights asserted by Janus.

—–Check out our Janus rights video here.

Office of State Financial Management Offers Janus Q&A Session here. Required state notifications, which include things like overtime, rest and meal breaks, and state paid vacation law, are here.

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