It’s been more than a month since the Supreme Court’s landmark Janus decision making financial support for unions completely voluntary for teachers and other public-sector workers. In education, there are plenty of predictions that this threat will, at last, force some moderation and cooperation from teachers unions. Much of this comes from Democratic education reformers who have always been conflicted about the specific ways the unions operate relative to broader aspirations for unionism. Conservatives hope Janus will weaken, if not marginalize, the anti-choice and anti-reform teachers unions.
In practice, everyone will probably be disappointed, because the most likely outcome is somewhat paradoxical: teachers unions that are smaller but more strident than they are today. The Supreme Court could have issued a narrower ruling giving Mark Janus some relief while preserving some features of the agency fee arrangement. Instead, a five-justice majority upended the public-sector unions’ economic model.
Still, those who see the ruling as something close to a death knell ignore the enormous power teachers unions retain. Collective bargaining agreements and other union-friendly norms remain in place. Even post-Janus, they still have a lot of money to deploy and a lot of leverage in low-turnout school board elections and gerrymandered legislative races where the action is in the primaries. And, as union leaders like to say, management gets the union it deserves. Few observers would give education administration high marks for effectiveness, and education policy these days is an incoherent goat rodeo. So teachers don’t have to work in schools very long before many decide it would be good to have someone looking out for them.