The Supreme Court recently decided a case called Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, a politically motivated attack on working people and the unions that negotiate on their behalf for better wages and working conditions.
While the court's decision favored corporations and the wealthy, working people are more resolved than ever to stick together and fight back against any attacks that attempt to divide us.
Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31
What Is Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, and Why Is It Important?
Unions are required by law to represent and negotiate on the behalf of all workers in a bargaining unit, regardless of whether the individuals they represent are dues-paying members. In this case, a bare majority of the court, conceded to the dark web of corporations and billionaires to prevent public-sector unions from collecting fair share fees from workers they represent who choose not to join the union.
The fact is no one is ever forced to join a union and no one is forced to pay anything to support the political activity designed to advance the rights of working people. This already is the law of the land. But the court's decision, until it is overturned, abandons decades of commonsense precedent.
In fact, Justice Kagan writes in the dissenting opinion that "[t]here are no special justifications for reversing Abood. It has proved workable. No recent developments have eroded its underpinnings. And it is deeply entrenched, in both the law and the real world."
So What Was This Case Really About?
This case was a bald-faced attack on working people. When our dedicated public servants are free to come together and negotiate for better wages, working conditions, health care, retirement security, and clean and safe environments, all working people benefit. But the greedy CEOs and corporate special interests behind this case wanted to weaken and restrict the voices of working people so they can grab even more wealth and even more power.
The Court Sided with Corporate Interests Instead of Working People. What happens now?
The United States already is facing an economic inequality crisis and this ruling against working people only makes matters worse. But working people have never depended on politicians or judges to make our lives better. We are building a revolution. We are joining together to fight the corporate interests that work to depress wages, weaken health care and retirement benefits, and defund public schools and vital public services.
We will continue to join together and advocate for better wages and benefits and safer working conditions, and continue to fight the greedy CEOs and their toady politicians who reward themselves at the expense of working people.
Who Is Mark Janus and What Is AFSCME, Council 31?
AFSCME Council 31 is a local union that represents 75,000 of Illinois’ public-sector workers. It makes sure the nurses and EMS workers and 911 dispatchers and security personnel who keep our communities clean and safe can negotiate for better working conditions and a fair return on their work. Mark Janus was an Illinois public employee who wanted all the benefits of a union contract without contributing anything in return.
But Mark Janus is just a name. It’s not even clear if he is all that invested in this case. But corporate-funded organizations such as the National Right to Work Foundation and the State Policy Network are certainly invested. These organizations are part of a network funded by corporate billionaires who want to use the courts to rig the rules against working people. They want to strike a “mortal blow” and “defund and defang” unions, and they fund politicians who carry their water.
In fact, this case originated from a political scheme by the governor of Illinois—and billionaire—Bruce Rauner, to advance an agenda that benefits corporations and the wealthy at the expense of working people. As soon as he took office, Rauner launched a political attack on public service workers and filed a lawsuit in his own name to bar the collection of fair share fees by public service unions. The case was dismissed, but the Right to Work Foundation stepped in on behalf of Janus to get the case before the Supreme Court.
The Implications of the Janus Decision
The decision outlaws fair share fees in state and local government. This is a broad and sweeping ruling, but at the same time, it is important to recognize the limits of the Court’s holding. We describe those limits here.
The decision in Janus has no application outside state and local government.
The first important point about Janus is that it is a case about public employees in state and local government. The Court’s holding has no direct impact on private-sector or federal employees or collective bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act, the Railway Labor Act, or the Federal Service Labor Management Relations Act. Collection of fair share fees will remain lawful in the private sector. Fair share fees have never been authorized in federal employment, and nothing in the Janus decision changes that.
The decision in Janus does not affect unions’ relationship to their members.
It is also important to understand that Mark Janus is not a union member – he is a nonmember who paid an agency fee to the union that represents him pursuant to the applicable collective bargaining agreement and state law. It is important to remember that the ruling will apply only to nonmembers. The Court’s decision has no application to members. Even in states with so-called “right to work” laws that prevent collection of fair share fees from non-members, close to 85% of those represented by unions voluntarily choose to be union members. Janus does not affect them.
The decision in Janus does not affect the unions’ status as exclusive representative of all workers in a bargaining unit – members and non-members.
The decision in Janus does not change how members pay their union dues.
Most union members in both the public and private sectors voluntarily authorize their employers to deduct their union dues from their paychecks as a convenient means of making sure their dues are paid. The Janus decision does not deprive union members of this convenience.
The decision in Janus does not restrict union members’ right to participate in electoral politics through their unions.
Union members have a right to engage in electoral politics and to coordinate their actions through their unions in order to amplify the voice of working families in the halls of government. The Court’s ruling in Janus does not limit that right. Even before today’s ruling, non-members could prevent any of their fair share fees from being used for electoral or political purposes. Those were not the fees at issue in Janus – Janus is about sharing in the costs of bargaining and representation.
Working People Are Organizing in Unions
While this corporate-backed case was decided against working people, unions remain the best way for working people to advocate for workplace rights and counter the influence big money corporate interests have on our democracy. In fact, we’re witnessing a wave of working people joining together to make a difference in our workplaces and communities.
Among the many successes of 2018 include:
- Nearly 1,100 postdoctoral researchers at the University of Washington;
- Teachers and staff at City on a Hill school in New Bedford, Massachusetts;
- Burgerville restaurant workers in Portland, Oregon;
- The 235 employees at Nestle Purina in Edmond, Oklahoma;
- Nearly 5,000 JetBlue in-flight crew members;
- More than 5,000 Harvard University teaching and research assistants in Cambridge, Massachusetts;
- Some 700 employees at Atlanta Gas Light;
- Registered nurses and personal support workers at Spectrum Health Care in Toronto;
- Registered nurses at Stanford Health Care’s ValleyCare Medical Center in Pleasanton, California;
- Nurses and staff at UMass Memorial Hospital in Marlborough, Massachusetts;
- Hundreds of employees at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut;
- Staff from nine Democratic election campaigns;
- The editorial staff at The Onion, Jacobin and Mic;
- Aviation workers at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Eastern, Central and Western service centers;
- Teachers at California Virtual Academies;
- Parking production assistants in New York City;
- Food service workers at Airbnb in San Francisco;
- Staff at KUOW-FM 94.9 in Seattle;
- Employees at Micro-Clean;
- Emissions workers in Michigan.
9 Things You Need to Know About the Role of Unions
- Unions amplify the voices of working people on the job.
- Working people in unions are as diverse as Americans as a whole.
- Working people in unions come from a variety of sectors.
- Unions are thriving in diverse industries.
- Democracy is strengthened when more working people are union members.
- Unions reduce inequality and help middle- and low-wage working people obtain a fair share of economic growth.
- More specifically, unions help reduce wage gaps and increase wages for women and people of color.
- Union workplaces are safer and all workplaces are safer because of unions.
- Corporate lobbyists and their lawmaker friends are dismantling the rights of working people.