Labor News From Our Region
The battle lines are drawn, now it’s up to us to fight
By TIM ROWDEN
The long-dreaded decision in the Janus case does not mean an end to public sector unions. If anything, the fight is just beginning.
Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, the ultimate defendant in the case, says 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.
“No court case will stop our movement. We’re staying strong, united and determined.”
IT WON’T STOP WITH THE COURT RULING
One Illinois union has already dealt with fallout from a similar decision.
The Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in Harris v. Quinn eliminated agency fees for 20,000 Illinois homecare workers represented by SEIU Healthcare. “There is life after right-to-work,” union president Greg Kelley told Curtis Black of The Chicago Reporter.
SEIU homecare workers have been visited door-to-door canvassers paid by right-wing anti-union groups backed by billionaires like the Koch Brothers, urging union members to quit.
The Koch-backed State Policy Network has reportedly pledged $80 million for similar drives across the country following Janus.
“It’s part of the new normal,” Kelley said. The canvassers don’t take an explicitly anti-union approach, he said: “They don’t say the union is bad; they just say you can get all the benefits without paying for it.”
Although SEIU Healthcare lost some members, Kelly said the union has fought back by mobilizing its membership for organizing drives and actually recouped some of the losses.
“Our members are still very much resolved to stick with their union,” he said. “Especially in this political environment, they see the need to stick together to have a say on their job and improve their lives.”
The new environment “presents an opportunity for us to be a 21st century union,” Kelley said. “It requires us to do things very transparently and be in continuous communication with our members, mobilizing and organizing – much like the way unions began in this country, going back to what works.”
LEARN A LESSON FROM THE TEACHERS
The wave of successful teachers strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona – all “right-to-work” states – is evidence that workers can win –– if they stand together.
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey, in a press conference after the Janus decision, noted that CTU existed long before agency fees were instituted to prevent free-riders from benefitting from the contract without contributing to its costs.
CTU withstood an attack on its collective bargaining power by Rauner, who was joined by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and House Speaker Michael Madigan to push through a 2011 law intended to prevent Chicago teachers from authorizing a strike.
The next year, 90 percent of CTU members voted to strike for the first time in 25 years.
After seven days on the picket lines, 26,000 teachers went back to the classroom with a new contract.