Major Supreme Court Case On Public Unions Looms

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court heard a case challenging public unions ability to collect the funds necessary to bargain for their members and non-members alike. Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31″ (known as Janus v. AFSCME) could permanently curb the power of public unions.

If the court rules in favor of Janus and against AFSCME, unions will no longer be allowed to collect “fair share” fees from non-union members. Currently 22 states allow public unions to collect fair share fees from non-members. The concept is based on the fact that non-union members benefit from union activities made on their behalf.

The more liberal members of the Supreme Court spoke in favor of public unions in oral arguments and warned of the consequences if the five conservative justices rule against unions. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cautioned that a ruling against the union in this case would weaken their ability to challenge employers.

“It drains it of resources that make it an equal partner with the government in negotiations,” Ginsburg said. “And then you’ll have a union with diminished resources, not able to investigate what it should demand at the bargaining table, not equal to the employer that it faces.”

Justice Elena Kagan warned of the danger in overturning 40 years of precedent.  “I don’t think that we have ever overruled a case where reliance interests are remotely as strong as they are here.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a stern rebuke to the attorney representing Janus suggested that if the court ruled in their favor it would be a death blow to the union movement. “You’re basically arguing, ‘Do away with unions,’” she said.

AFSCME Council 31 issued this statement ahead of last Saturday’s nationwide “Working People’s Day of Action.” Iowa unions rallied in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for the Day of Action.

“For years, billionaire CEOs and corporate special interests have rigged the system to amass wealth and power for themselves at the expense of working people. Those same special interests are now backing the upcoming Supreme Court case, Janus vs. AFSCME Council 31, which threatens to make things even worse by taking away the ability of working people to come together in strong unions.”

Working families have had enough. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1,300 sanitation workers who went on strike in Memphis, Tennessee, 50 years ago organized, marched and spoke up to defend basic freedoms – freedoms that are under attack to this day.

This Saturday – two days before the oral arguments in the Janus case – tens of thousands of people across the country will once again gather to defend their freedoms during the “Working People’s Day of Action.” Activists, religious leaders, union members, public service workers and others will unite with one voice to protest the rigged economy and political system.”

Richard Trumka, President AFL-CIO said, “The American labor movement is a family that will not be pushed around or denied. Working people pave the streets, drive the buses, educate our children, and are the first to respond in times of emergency. Working families know best what is needed to build a better life for ourselves and our loved ones.”

The Economic Policy Institute, Center for American Progress and several civil rights groups have weighed in supporting the unions as well.

“A weaker union is going to be less able to protect its workers, and the people who basically need the most protection are those who are usually discriminated against,” Janelle Jones, an analyst for the Economic Policy Institute, tells Marketplace.

“The Supreme Court, and all of our courts, must be guided by the law and the Constitution, not politics. The Court should reject this political attack on long-settled rights of working people,” said Seema Nanda, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“This case threatens the freedom of millions of Americans working in the public sector to bargain for decent pay, better benefits and a voice in their workplace,” said Neera Tanden president of the Center for American Progress.

The Republicans vicious attacks on unions continues. Last year’s Republican controlled legislature stripped Iowa’s public unions of bargaining rights and the attacks continue across the country. With the Supreme Court in majority Republican control the outcome of the Janus case puts the union movement at great risk. The need to support and grow unions has never been greater.


by Rick Smith
Posted 2/27/18

2 Comments on "Major Supreme Court Case On Public Unions Looms"

  • If I were a betting man, I’d wager that it will come down to Justice Kennedy’s vote. And his recent record seems inconsistent. I hold out little hope, yhough. The only thing that could save public unions (and by extension, all unions) is precedent, preciselty what Justice Kagan stated.
    Amazing how, after struggling for progressive values for years (hell, almost centuries!) our hard-won fights are being overturned in a matter of less than one presidential term. In other words, I don’t hold out much hope that AFSCME will prevail.

  • when too many voters who refuse to educate themselves before voting, they seem to not foresee nor understand the future results of voting against their own best interests. The sadder part of their failure to educate themselves before voting is that we all have to pay dearly for their ignorance right along with them.

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