By TIM ROWDEN
In a narrow and ideologically driven decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, the Supreme Court ruled against working people and in favor of the dark money corporate interests behind the case, undermining the freedom to organize and rigging our democracy and economy even further against working people.
The decision overturned a 41-year Supreme Court precedent requiring public-sector workers represented by unions, but who choose not to join the union, to pay “fair share fees” to help cover the cost of the collective bargaining services that they receive from the union. That was the case in 23 states and the District of Columbia that had “fair share” laws on the books
The June 27 ruling wiping out those fees and imposing “right-to-work” conditions on the public sector – forcing unions to represent non-member workers for free – affects more than five million teachers, fire fighters, police officers, nurses and other public sector workers.
Though the ruling is a serious blow, Organized Labor isn’t taking the decision lying down. Leaders are heeding it as a clarion call to organize and fight back.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision abandoned decades of commonsense precedent.
“A bare majority of the court, over the vigorous dissent of four justices, has conceded to the dark web of corporations and wealthy donors who wish to take away the freedoms of working people,” Trumka said.
“But here’s the thing: America is heading in a different direction. All over the country, workers are organizing and taking collective action as we haven’t seen in years,” he said.
“More than 14,000 workers recently formed or joined unions in just a single week. This followed a year where 262,000 workers organized and the approval rating of unions reached a nearly 14-year high. Working families know the best way to get a raise, better benefits and a voice on the job is through a union contract.”
Promising to keep fighting, Trumka said: “The corporate narrative of the Labor Movement’s downfall is being dismantled by working people every single day. We have never depended on any politician or judge to decide our fate and we aren’t about to start now.”
JANUS BACKED BY RAUNER, NATIONAL RTW FOUNDATION
“We are extremely disappointed the Supreme Court has taken the side of the powerful few, but we’re more determined than ever to keep our union strong, standing up for public services and the working people who provide them,” said Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Council 31 in Illinois, the defendant in the case brought by Mark Janus a child support worker in the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
Janus was represented by attorneys with the National Right-to-Work Foundation, which is funded by the Koch brothers and other right-wing billionaires’ foundations.
The case had its origins in a lawsuit filed by Illinois’ billionaire, anti-worker Gov. Bruce Rauner, who issued an executive order in 2015 instructing Illinois to stop collecting fair share fees.
Around the same time, Rauner filed a federal lawsuit to speed the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the Liberty Justice Center and the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank and member of the State Policy Network, joined the case with Janus and footed the bill for his legal expenses.
RAUNER IMMEDIATELY BEGINS DECEPTION CAMPAIGN
Following the ruling, the Rauner Administration wasted no time in trying to confuse state workers and entice them into resigning from their union, creating a web page entitled “Change Union Membership Status.”
An email from the acting director of the state’s Central Management Services told union members they could stop paying dues, claiming that healthcare, retirement and other employee benefits are guaranteed to all state workers and “do not depend on union membership or collective bargaining,” a remarkable claim, given Rauner’s terrible record in contract negotiations with state workers.
The web page points out that workers don’t have to pay fair-share fees anymore, but then goes further to argue that unions “are still obligated to fairly represent all employees in collective bargaining, whether they are members of the union or not … you will NOT lose your employment benefits if you opt out of the union.”
It then provides a handy link to let workers notify the state if they want to opt out – essentially inviting them to become contract free-riders.
Labor Professor Robert Bruno of the University of Illinois said the web page reaches far beyond the Janus ruling.
“The most that the state should do, if it’s complying with the letter and the spirit of the court’s decision, is to simply notify employees that fair-share designation no longer exists,” he said. “Who are they talking to? Who is the audience? Well, the audience is not fair-share members. The audience for this is union members. Clearly, clearly the state should not be involved in a campaign to solicit union defections.”
AFSCME FIGHTING BACK
AFSCME had anticipated the ruling and has launched a massive national effort to conduct 800,000 face-to-face conversations.
In Illinois, Council 31 is encouraging fair-share members to sign cards as full members.
“The powerful interests behind this case have tens of millions of dollars to pour into their political agenda of trying to silence us,” Lynch said. “But we aren’t afraid and we aren’t going anywhere,” Lynch said. “We’re making certain that every union member knows the real intent of this case is to defund unions, then drive down wages and benefits of public service workers. We’re not going to let that happen.”
Lynch said about 10 percent of the 38,000 state workers represented by her union have been paying fair-share fees, but many of them consider themselves “fair-share members” who simply choose to abstain from the union’s political activity.
When Rauner came into office and issued an executive order (subsequently blocked by a judge) banning fair-share fees, a couple thousand of those workers responded by joining the union, she said.
“The forces behind the lawsuit, like the National Right-to-Work Foundation, the anti-worker Illinois Policy Institute and the Liberty Justice Center, are waging an aggressive campaign to get employees who are currently members to drop out of the union. But no court case will stop our movement. We’re staying strong, united and determined.”
CONTINUING TO RIG THE ECONOMY AGAINST WORKING PEOPLE
In Missouri, Mike Louis, President of the Missouri AFL-CIO, said America needs unions now more than ever.
“While billionaires and the corporate interests behind the Janus case use their power and wealth to continue to rig our economy against working people, workers are busy building a movement to rewrite the rules of our economy to create broadly shared prosperity,” Louis said.
“Workers are on the rise and the Supreme Court can’t stop us! At a time when our democracy and economy are rigged to overwhelmingly favor the wealthy, America needs unions now more than ever so our middle class can thrive.”
This year’s teacher strikes in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona are a reminder of what can be done, even against seemingly insurmountable odds, when workers make a commitment to stand together.
“Workers will steadfastly continue to join together and stand together in unions for dignity and respect on the job,” said Jacob Hummel, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO and a member of IBEW Local 1
“The Missouri Labor Movement recommits today, tomorrow and every day to fight on behalf of America’s workers,” Hummel said.“The Janus decision is a step backwards in the forward progression of our country, but working people will stand together and continue our long march for living wages, a voice on the job and full worker rights.”
The 1977 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education legalized the collection of union fair-share fees from non-members for costs related to negotiating and enforcing labor contracts. The fair-share fees covered only the expenses of contract negotiations, representation and enforcement of labor contracts. Fair-share fees could not by law be used for lobbying and political expenses by unions.
The dark money billionaires and corporations behind what eventually became the Janus case spent decades misrepresenting the law in an effort to deceive public sector union members and the general public that the fair-share fees were being used for political purposes and thus represented a form of forced political speech.
This is how that effort led to Janus:
• Feb. 9, 2015 – Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, in office less than a month, issues an executive order suspending the deduction of fair-share fees from state employees’ paychecks and sending the money to unions. He also files a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of fair-share fee collection, contending it violates the First Amendment. Both moves were designed to fail, thereby allowing the case to advance through the appeals process to the U.S. Supreme Court.
• Sept. 13, 2016 – A federal judge in Chicago dismisses Rauner’s lawsuit, saying the governor does not have standing in the case. A state worker, Mark Janus, later is allowed to intervene in the case, saying he objects to fair-share fees being deducted from his paycheck to be sent to a union. Janus’ legal representation is provided by the anti-union National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center.
• March 21, 2017 – An appellate court affirms the federal judge’s 2016 decision to dismiss the case. Janus appeals the appellate ruling to the Supreme Court.
• Sept. 28, 2017 – The U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the Janus case.
• Feb. 26, 2018 – Oral arguments are presented to the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. Gov. Rauner is present for the arguments and speaks to the media afterward.
• June 27, 2018 – U.S. Supreme Court hands down its ruling in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 outlawing fair-share fees, allowing non-members to receive the full benefit of union representation without paying one red cent.