JANUS vs. AFSCME: An Attack on Workers

Supreme Court Ruling

By Ben Hover

In a recent case titled Janus vs. AFSCME, the Supreme Court ruled on June 27, 2018 to overturn approximately 40 years of precedent to remove the Fair Share Dues requirement for non-Union members in collective bargaining units. Pundits from across the political spectrum agree that this ruling will hamper the ability of Unions to conduct their business in the workplace. The ruling by the Supreme Court demonstrates in stark terms the consequences of the decisions made by the voting public at the ballot box. Similarly, the case represents the fruition of a concerted effort of billionaire ideologues to strip the rights of working Americans to unite in negotiating for better pay, working conditions, and benefits.

What are Fair Share Dues?

The issue located at the center of the case was whether or not an employee should be compelled to pay Fair Share Dues for representation by a bargaining unit. From the previous precedents of the court, States-such as Pennsylvania and Illinois- could pass labor laws allowing Collective Bargaining Units (or Unions) to collect fees from nonmembers.

The long-standing precedent-stare decisis in legal terms-ruled that nonmembers benefited from the receipt of higher wages, benefits, and better working conditions negotiated by the Bargaining Unit. In addition, the National Labor Relations Board mandates that all employees, “have a right to be represented by [a] union fairly, in good faith, and without discrimination. [A] union has the duty to represent all employees – whether members of the union or notfairly, in good faith, and without discrimination. This duty applies to virtually every action that a union may take in dealing with an employer as your representative, including collective bargaining, handling grievances, and operating exclusive hiring halls.” In other words, Unions are required by law to extend all of their operations to cover members and nonmembers alike.

Because of this legal requirement to represent all employees, past courts consistently ruled for over four decades that Unions could assess a fee to cover the costs incurred by this representation. These fees are used to cover employees-member and nonmember alike, without prejudice-in the operations of offering health care, retirement, due process in the workplace, and ensuring safe working conditions.

Who wants to change this precedent?

While the captains of business and industry have assaulted Labor Unions since their inception, the last three decades have witnessed a renewed concerted effort by right wing ideologues to restrict the rights of workers to unionize. The Union movement helped to create Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and even was the force behind the 40-hour work week and the weekend.

In the past ten years, think tanks and advocacy groups funded by billionaires-the Koch Brothers, the Bradley Foundation, the Betsy DeVos family, the Walton family, even the Gates foundation, and more– -have advocated to undermine union support and for so-called Right to Work laws in states throughout the United States. Perhaps the most visible example occurred in Wisconsin when over 100, 000 citizens– teachers, firefighters, postal workers, governmental employees, and others-joined together to oppose Walker’s plans to decimate public sector Unions. In the years after Wisconsin’s attack on the Unions. Fifteen more states have passed right to work bills aimed at ending public sector Unions despite popular opposition to the bills.

The Lansdowne Borough Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of AFSCME this past April to voice our support of the right of Lansdowne workers to unionize.

How does this affect Pennsylvania?

The Republican Party in Pennsylvania has attempted to enact similar radical actions in Pennsylvania. For the past four years, Republican legislators in the House and Senate have passed or introduced one bill after another attacking Unions in Pennsylvania-allowing employers to refuse to deduct dues from paychecks (2014), right to work legislation (2017), prohibiting payroll deductions for voluntary contributions to Union PACs (2017), cuts to worker’s compensation (2018).

Leading the opposition to Unions in Pennsylvania is none other than the Republican candidate for Governor, former State Senator Scott Wagner. In 2014, Scott Wagner infamously compared labor unions to Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Putin. To solidify his hatred of Unions, Scott Wagner regularly uses his campaign to attack teachers and the two teacher unions in PA-the AFT and NEA. According to the NEA, EducationVotes website, “Wagner has also said he wants to eliminate benefits that educators earn, including sick days. He plans to end pensions for working educators, and wants retired educators to give back 10% of the retirement they earned.” On the other hand, Governor Tom Wolf repeatedly sided with workers and unions and used the power of his veto pen to stave off attacks on the protections fought for by the many unions in Pennsylvania.

How does Janus vs. AFSCME affect Lansdowne?

In recognition of the many Lansdowne residents and employees who are members of unions throughout the area, the Lansdowne Borough Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of AFSCME this past April to voice our support of the right of Lansdowne workers to unionize. A portion of that resolution recognized the reality that unions are still the organizations working to achieve pay equity and dignity for women and people of color in the United States:

Being able to participate in unions gives all of us – particularly women and people of color – a powerful voice in speaking up for ourselves, our families, and our communities, and ensures that each worker in the Borough of Lansdowne is treated with dignity, respect, and appreciation.

To put this in perspective, the consistent rhetorical attacks on unions by Scott Wagner and other Republican legislators are not abstract. The attacks are really attacks on our neighbors, our friends, our families, our teachers, our sanitation workers, our police officers, our firefighters-many of whom are members of the PSEA, PFT, FOP, SEIU, TWU, IATSE, IAFF, AFSCME, CWA, and many more. When political candidates or representatives promise to cut wages, reduce benefits, or privatize resources, they are promising an injury to community members we know and care about.

And, in the words of unions, “an injury to one is an injury to all.”