Labor News From Our Region
Janus case before the Supreme Court could decimate public sector unions
Elections have consequences
By TIM ROWDEN
The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to deal a crippling blow to the Labor Movement in a case that could bring so-called “right-to-work” status to the nation’s public-sector unions.
The court has agreed to hear Janus vs. AFSCME, which is basically a replay of last year’s Friedrichs v. CTA.
In Friedrichs, the plaintiffs argued that interactions between public sector unions and government employers are inherently political. Therefore, the argument went, mandatory agency fees to reimburse the union for the expenses of representation and bargaining were forced political speech, violating employees’ purported First Amendment right to not pay dues.
The case ended in a 4-4 deadlock in March 2016, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who had appeared poised to vote against the unions’ interests.
The Janus case was brought against AFSCME by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, in the name of a state employee, Mark Janus, who says he does not want to pay a “fair share” representation fee to the union.
The Supreme Court, now controlled by Republicans in a 5-4 split, said Sept. 28 that it will take up the case. A decision against the unions would affect public sector unions in 22 states that do not already have “right-to-work” laws in place – an estimated five million-plus union employees.
The four largest public-sector unions – the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, Service Employees International Union and AFSCME – are joined in opposition, saying the case is a political attempt to rig the nation’s economic rules against working people by depriving the unions of adequate funding.
“These powerful interests want to gut one of the last remaining checks on their control – a strong and united Labor Movement that fights for equity and opportunity for all, not just the privileged few,” said AFT President Randy Weingarten.
Following last year’s Friedrichs case and the unexpected death of Justice Scalia that resulted in the 4-4 split, the Republican Senate refused to consider President Obama’s nomination of moderate Merrick Garland to replace him.
The election of President Donald Trump allowed Republicans to push through their nominee for the court – Neil Gorsuch, a well-mannered but thoroughly corporate conservative.
The Janus case could overturn the 40-year-old ruling in Abood vs. Detroit, which said it is reasonable for employees to be required pay for the cost of bargaining, since unions are required to represent all employees. Under Abood, workers may choose to pay a “fair share” fee that is less than full union dues that only cover collectve bargaining and representative issues and NOT any political ones.
Justice Samuel Alito in recent years has argued against the fair share fee established in Abood, claiming it violates free-speech rights, even though the fee can only be used to cover the costs of representation, not political activity.
Local labor groups have been talking about the case, fully aware that it could not only cripple public-sector unions but also lead to a movement for national “right-to-work,” affecting all unions.
“It’s going to be a major blow, and not just for the public sector employees. This could be catastrophic to all of us,” said B. Dean Webb, president of the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor. “We will need to work that much harder this coming election.”
This is a clear and drastic reminder that elections have consequences.