The Future of American Unions Hangs in the Balance

Jeanne Allen CEO and Founder of the Center for Education Reform, speaks out in favor of Janus

What could be more convincing evidence that the mandatory fees paid by Janus and other non-union public employees are being used by the unions to achieve political outcomes with which those employees may disagree? IL state worker Mark Janus, backed by an array of far-right legal organizations, contends that having to pay a fee to American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 violates his free-speech rights because it forces him to give money to an organization he disagrees with. The union then coerces workers to pay dues regardless of whether or not they want to.

Bruce Rauner speaks to the media in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after a hearing on February 26. That fund would be weakened if objectors to the public sector unions affiliated with AFL-CIO are allowed to refuse to pay dues. Lawyers argued the case on Monday.

The claimant, Mark Janus, an IL state social worker, argues that his First Amendment liberties are violated because he has to pay an "agency fee" to the union even though he is not a member and might disagree with its politics. Empowering workers and rewriting the rules of our economy won't be easy, but there has never been a more important time for workers to assert our collective power.

AFSCME-which represents more than 1.6 million employees nationwide-serves as an umbrella organization for thousands of local unions in the U.S., including Harvard's largest union, the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers.

Jacob Huebert, of the Liberty Justice Center, agreed with Janus and wants to give workers the option to not pay dues. What he wants is both ways.

A ruling in favor of Janus would simply give public employees a choice they do not now have - whether or not they want to give part of their hard-earned wages to the union. In a union job, the union represents everybody. It has been backed by a small group of foundations whose funders include the Koch brothers and the DeVos family.

Liberals say conservatives are trying to use the court to break the power of public-sector unions.

The Court is nearly certain to rule against the unions. The case is little different from Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association on which the Court split 4-4 after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia two terms ago. Justice Gorsuch could deal a huge blow to unions.

Knock one part out, as the Janus plaintiffs aim to do with agency fees, and the whole system can fall apart.

AFSCME, the nation's largest union for government workers, argues that without the fees workers would get a "free ride", enjoying job protections the union secures without paying the associated cost.

In support of the latter point they go on to note that a recent political science paper found that "the Democrats' share of the presidential vote fell 3.5 percentage points in states that eliminated fair-share fees". Yet it's also a defensive-organizing success story. That's exactly why they want to destroy us.

In Harris v. Quinn, the Supreme Court refused to extend Abood to Medicaid home health care providers because they aren't "full-fledged" public employees. Last year, they successfully lobbied for a new state law that requires government workers, upon being hired, to go through an orientation session with union representatives. "We must hold the line here, and I think we will". It was dismaying, though not unexpected, that during oral arguments, justices like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor concerned themselves with the impact the decision would have on union membership rather than concerning themselves with impact this kind of policy has on the Constitution.

Taxpayer advocates would likely oppose bills that would shield contact information or give union members release time from work, said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "This isn't people we don't know or talk to-this affects people we work with and are close to".

Debora Nearman campaigned for her husband's reelection that year and was "very distressed and humiliated by her union's political campaign against her husband, especially by the charge that he did not support paying disabled persons a fair wage because (Debora) is herself disabled", lawyers for Debora Nearman wrote in the brief.

Several union leaders say that most workers who pay agency fees aren't union opponents dragooned into it, but people who just assumed they were already members.

"America needs unions more than ever", said 32BJ President Hector Figueroa in a statement. Rally attendees were adorned with badges and stickers reading "Union Strong", holding banners and overall making a clear show of their positive feelings about their own unions.

The deep-pocketed backers of Janus aim to bankrupt unions and strip them of whatever power they still have.

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