Joseph A. McCartin

Joseph A. McCartin teaches history at Georgetown University.  He is the author of Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America.

Recent Articles

It’s Time for Federal Workers to Get Sick

A sickout by unpaid federal employees could bring the impasse—and their status as hostages to the president’s whim—to an end.

Some hostage situations are only resolved when the hostages themselves act, upending their captor’s strategy. We have now entered uncharted territory, the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. As President Donald Trump hesitates to call for a state of emergency, which prominent members of his own party oppose and which courts would likely find unconstitutional, a resolution to this standoff is elusive. That brings us to a possibility that would have been unthinkable only a week ago—that collective action by federal workers might be the most plausible mechanism at hand to free the nation from the impasse in which we now are mired. This partial shutdown can continue only as long as hundreds of thousands of federal workers cooperate with it by working without pay, and often having to do more because many of their colleagues have been furloughed. What if the stress levels these workers are enduring began to sicken them in numbers large enough to impede an array of vital...

The Radical Roots of Janus

The attorney whose arguments were heard in the Supreme Court yesterday—a decade after his death—actually wanted all unions outlawed.

As the Supreme Court heard the pivotal union case, Janus v. AFSCME, on Monday, an unacknowledged presence haunted its chambers: that of Sylvester Petro, who conceived the argument on which the case turns. Although he died in 2007, this ideologically driven, anti-union law professor originated the legal strategy behind this case. His radical vision illuminates Janus ’s profound implications. Petro was the first to contend that public-sector collective bargaining was simply a form of politics, and that therefore, any effort to require government workers to pay “agency fees” to a union in return for its representational work amounted to compelled political speech that infringed on their First Amendment rights—the argument that Illinois public employee Mark Janus embraced in this case. Petro tried unsuccessfully to get the court to endorse that argument in the 1977 case of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education , the precedent Janus seeks to overturn. Yet despite...