Before the United States Supreme Court is what scholars are calling the case of a Century as far as unions are concerned. “So what?” you say.
If you and I live in the same neighborhood with twenty other families, chances are we have a homeowners association. Paid dues support common services, like snow removal, common area mowing, trash pick up to name a few. We share the cost of the benefit which is common to each family. But what if I elect to not pay the dues, and tell everyone that I’m fine with them providing the services which I will enjoy–I just want my freedom to choose whether I should pay. My neighbors call me a freeloader. I call it my constitutional right not to pay.
That is the crux of Janus v. AFSCME. Twice in the past five years the highest court in our nation has reconsidered its holding in a 1977 decision (Aboud) that a government can constitutionally force its employees to pay fees to a union which has the obligation to exclusively represent those employees over employment issues with their employer. Because of the untimely death of one justice, the Court split evenly on whether to overrule Abood in a 2016 decision. Now, with Justice Gorsuch on the bench, the Janus case is the third attempt at licensing freeloading.
Under longstanding labor law, any worker who is represented by a union may choose not to join the union or pay membership fees. The union, however, must represent all employees in the bargaining unit equally. Therefore, in twenty-two states, unions and public employers may negotiate as part of a collective bargaining agreement a provision that permits the collection of fair-share fees. These fees are calculated to cover the costs germane to collective bargaining, while allowing workers who benefit from the union’s representation to opt out of paying any fees toward the union’s social or political activities. The Trump Administration and his corporate baron friends want more.
This is about rigging an economy and limiting individual freedoms. The freedom of working people to come together and fight for decent and equitable pay for work, affordable health care, quality schools, vibrant communities and a secure future is undermined by the corporate barons who for decades have amassed millions of dollars to eliminate individuals ability to join and collectively bargain.
If the Supreme Court sides with the corporate interests, it would make it easier to divide working people and limit their power in numbers because unions give workers – particularly women and people of color – a powerful voice in speaking up for themselves, their families and their communities.
For example, “The Bradley Foundation, a Wisconsin-based mega-donor to right-wing causes, has invested heavily in the anti-union campaign. Since the 1990s, the donor has given $30.5m to 24 conservative groups that have supported the legal assaults against public sector unions that have reached the supreme court. The two sponsors of the Janus case, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Illinois Policy Institute’s Liberty Justice Center, have between them received $1.6m in Bradley donations since 2003.”
My friend, Anne Feeney, has a song about the War on the Workers. She is right. It is indeed.