US Supreme Court shutterstock photo ID: 376063027 By Tinnaporn Sathapornnanont

Unions denounce Janus, vow to fight on

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision handed down June 27, ruled against the union in Janus vs. AFSCME, putting an end to public-sector employee unions’ ability to supplement member dues with smaller but substantial fees from millions of nonunion workers.

The decision, was widely anticipated—and is now being condemned—by labor organizations of all stripes nationwide—and the decision comes as a sharp blow to state and local unions, which rely on the fees to pay for much of their operations.

Mark Janus, an employee for the state government of Illinois, was the lead nonunion plaintiff in the case against the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—with the argument that, as nonmembers, the fees effectively tread on their free speech rights and should not be compelled.

The ruling will not affect federal employee unions directly, at least not at the level of their operations. Federal employee unions do not and cannot charge the so-called agency fees—and long have had to rely solely on dues-paying members to finance their work. However, since the ruling will lead organized labor to losses anticipated totaling billions of dollars, Janus will weaken the political and bargaining power of the labor movement in America.

Critical responses from federal unions were quick to come. “In Solidarity,” read the main headline on the National Treasury Employees Union website. “NTEU stands with AFSCME and the working Americans impacted by the Supreme Court decision. A legal attack on one union is an attack on all those who represent working people.”

The American Federation of Government Employees also fired back at the decision—as well as a range of executive branch actions affecting federal employees in recent months.

“On May 25, President Trump issued a series of executive orders targeting federal employees’ collective bargaining and due process rights, “ J. David Cox, the president of AFGE said in a statement. “And now the Supreme Court has issued a decision that jeopardizes union rights and protections for millions of public-sector workers at the state and local levels, and here in the District of Columbia.”

“On behalf of the wealthiest one percent and special interest groups, the Supreme Court has attempted to strike the death knell for public-sector unions, but the workers themselves will ultimately decide their own fate,” Cox said. “Workers know the importance of unions in the workplace and they will survive. We need to come together as workers and use this as our moment to stand up, join the union, and organize like never before. Every worker can use their voice to fight for better working conditions and fair representation by joining the union.”

The AFGE president also defiantly reiterated the rationale for “agency fees”—a rationale that reflects the financial fact that union work leads to protection for all employees, according to union leaders, as validated by a previous Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977).

“When union members pay to negotiate a contract for their workplace, everyone who’s covered by that contract takes home higher pay and benefits, has greater job security, enjoys improved health and safety standards, and gets help in settling workplace disputes,” Cox said.

“If you’re covered by the union contract but you don’t belong to the union, [now] it’s time to join your union and pay for the benefits you receive,” Cox continued. “Because those benefits could vanish tomorrow unless workers take a stand and fight for their rights at the worksite.”

Other major unions joined in condemning the SCOTUS ruling.

“Today’s Supreme Court Janus decision is yet another effort to put obstacles in front of working men and women to join collectively behind the power of a unified voice,” the United Auto Workers said in a statement. “To be clear, labor will survive.”

“But to be equally clear, our elections do matter, as the appointment of conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch by the Republican-led Senate left little doubt about the outcome of this decision,” the UAW, which though mostly a private-sector organization also represents state employees, continued. “The Janus decision is just another barrier and another attack on working men and women … The UAW and the rest of labor stand together no matter what obstacle.”

The AFL-CIO, which represents around 12 million domestic and international members, perhaps came out with the strongest statement in solidarity with their public-sector brethren.

“The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, abandons decades of commonsense precedent,” the statement said. “In this case, 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.”

“Until it is overturned, this decision will be a political stain on what is intended to be the most honorable, independent body in the world,” the statement said. “But more importantly, it will further empower the corporate elites in their efforts to thwart the aspirations of millions of working people standing together for a better life.”

Reader comments

Thu, Jul 5, 2018

Dear commenter on "Dear 'right decision' commenter". About your claim that the cost of living in union states outweighs the pay bump that comes with being in a union state: You're dead wrong. Numerous academic and government economists have crunched the numbers, and the economic advantage of stopping those who want "right-to-work" laws remains. That advantage remains in the 4 figures range to the workers in non-right-to-work states, even after accounting for cost-of-living differences. Further, there are health improvements in having a union watch out for you, and at least place some limit and possible legal action on employers that play fast and loose with their employees' health and lives. You might want to do some research before chucking around unsubstantiated "facts". Check the BLS. Do a routine search of unions and their historical impact on wages and health. Read a newspaper. Read a book. Stop reading only nonsense propaganda from what are clearly industry sources. Best to you in your health, wealth and family life, btw. Thanks for reading.

Tue, Jul 3, 2018

Federal unions do not and cannot charge the so-called agency fee.

Tue, Jul 3, 2018

I love how these federal-level unions are denouncing the end to the forced agency fees as detrimental to unions when they themselves do not impose the fees on non-members. If the forced fees are so wonderful and necessary for the continuation of unions, how are the federal ones getting by??

Tue, Jul 3, 2018

Dear "Dear 'right decision' commenter" commenter: You ignore the simple fact that union-friendly states have a much-higher cost of living than right-to-work states, so your 5-figure average increase in earnings simply evaporates away to increased costs.... The bottom line is that if unions are so great, why do they need to force non-members to pay???

Tue, Jul 3, 2018

Dear "right decision" commenter: Look at how classically self-destructive your take on things is. Union members, and in fact all workers on average in union-friendly states, earn an AVERAGE of 5 figures more than those in anti-union, right-to-work states. Yet you ignore this simple fact, one that would help you and your family down the generations. All because you are envious of excessive pay--and you are right on this sometimes--that the union officers cut themselves in for. What a stupid cut-your-nose-off-to-spite-your-face reasoning, you and literally millions of other envious fools, allow in yourselves. So, you give power instead to people hostile to workers altogether! Think. Please, read. Think. Re-evaluate.

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