The Business Council opposes S.5778-A (Alcantara) / A.7601-A (Abbate), which would amend the civil service law, to make it more difficult for a public employee to invoke their First Amendment Freedom of Speech by opting out of paying membership dues to a public employee union, including when that union uses its dues for advocacy contrary to the belief of the public employee.
This bill was designed solely for the purpose of blunting the potential outcome of Janus v. AFSCME, a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court. If the Court rules in favor of Mr. Janus, it would prohibit the compulsory “agency fees” that public employees who choose not to join unions are required to make in some states, including New York.
Experience in other states shows that many public employees, if not forced by law, opt not to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year in agency fees to unions that use that money for political activities outside of the interest of the employee. In fact, AFSCME officials interviewed by Bloomberg News estimated that only about a third of the workers they represent would pay fees “no matter what,” and that about half were “on the fence” about it. This means that even in New York, there are many public employees, who like Janus, are forced to fund political activity to which they are fundamentally opposed.
S.5778-A (Alcantara) / A.7601-A (Abbate) specifically provides that the time period for an employee to withdraw her deduction for payment of membership dues shall be the shorter of time set forth on an authorization card (which is set by the union, with no minimum length specified) or a time frame that may be set by future court rulings. This language all but traps a public employee into paying union dues despite any ruling in Janus.
Our state faces many challenges. We spend too much money. As a result, we’ve had years of economic decline, poor ratings from outside groups, and population losses. Our budget is dominated by programs where New York out-spends most other states without corresponding results. It is no secret that public sector unions play a significant role in the politics of the state and the outcome of our policies and budgets.
For instance, this year’s state budget is set to top $70 billion for Medicaid alone. If New York simply spent the same per person as California, the next most expensive state, New York taxpayers would save almost $27 billion this year. Yet, in a recent study by WalletHub that compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 35 measures of cost, accessibility and outcome of healthcare, New York ranks an underwhelming 28th. Further, according to the US Census Bureau’s 2015 Annual Survey of School System Finances, New York spent $21,206 per student on education, driven mainly by salaries and benefits, making the state the most expensive in the nation. According to the same report, the nationwide average per student expenditure was $11,392. Despite our spending, our PreK-12 Educational Achievement was given a grade of C- by Education Week’s 2017 “Quality Counts” report card on all 50 state systems. The common denominator is that the taxpayer spends too much for the results we are getting.
A Supreme Court ruling in favor of Janus would keep public employee unions more responsive to their dues-payers. Public employees, like all New Yorkers, care about the future of our state and their opinions on policy are not monolithic. This bill is a direct attack on public employees’ right to “vote with their wallet” and express themselves through the First Amendment; and doing so even before the Supreme Court has issued any decision.
New York’s lawmakers, from both parties, often call for increased freedoms and the empowerment and encouragement of dissenters to voice their opinions. Should New York’s public employees be treated any differently? It is in that spirit that we ask you to oppose S.5778-A (Alcantara) / A.7601-A (Abbate) and the further abridgment of the rights of public employees.