unions

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision in the Janus v. AFSCME decision, which seriously harms unions’ influence and resources in the public sector. But unions are promising to continue fighting.

The plaintiff, Mark Janus, is an employee at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, which is represented by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). As the union representing those workers, AFSCME collectively bargains for better wages, benefits, and working conditions for all workers, regardless of whether or not they individually choose to join the union.

As part of the agreement for representing workers who opt out of joining the union, the union charges unaffiliated workers a “fair share” fee amounting to a percentage of full membership dues, which is deducted from a worker’s paycheck in the same way taxes are deducted. The 1977 Supreme court decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, upheld the fair share fees as constitutional. However, Janus petitioned the court to hear his case, arguing that the $45/month fair share fee he was required to pay violated his First Amendment rights.

In a 5-4 decision, with the five conservative justices (Alito, Gorsuch, Kennedy, Roberts, and Thomas) ruling in favor of Janus, the court supported the plaintiff’s argument, ruling that non-members shouldn’t be required to pay any dues — even fair share fees — to the union representing their workplace.

The dissenting opinion, written by Justice Elena Kagan and joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor), stated that overturning Abood “prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance… by weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.”

The Janus decision marks a significant blow to public sector unions’ financial resources and ability to collectively bargain in public sector workplaces. President Trump praised the court’s ruling, saying that it was a “big loss for the coffers of the Democrats.”

However, unions are vowing to keep up the fight. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — which is the second-largest public sector union, representing 850,000 local and state government workers across the country — said her union isn’t swayed by Janus.

“SEIU members are going to show their strength by sticking together and throwing open our doors to not-yet-union members so that every working person can have a seat at the table,” Henry told Grit Post. “In the spirit of nationwide teacher walkouts, students protesting gun violence, and white, black, and brown Americans demanding families at the border be kept together, we are going to build a powerful movement that unites millions of working people.”

“No court case and no billionaire is going to take us down,” she added.

Other labor advocates also sounded off on the Janus decision, saying they’re undeterred in their efforts to organize workers. The AFL-CIO tweeted, “Don’t Mourn. Organize,” from their official account. Socialist magazine Jacobin tweeted a famous quote from organizer Eugene Debs. The Fight for 15 movement promised to continue efforts “to organize each other and turn poverty-wage jobs into good jobs.”

 

Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.

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