On June 27, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in the much-anticipated Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 case, which overturned 40 years of public-sector collective bargaining policy. The 5-4 decision bars states from requiring non-members from paying what are known as agency or fair-share fees to unions who collectively bargain on behalf of an entire unit in a public-sector workplace.
The Supreme Court held in 1977 that unions could charge non-members fees for benefits they received from certain representational activities. But the late-June decision overturned that ruling on First Amendment grounds, and it is expected to weaken workers’ rights.
“We stand with our brothers and sisters directly and indirectly affected by this decision,” stated SIU President Michael Sacco. “We will not allow the Court’s action to deter us from fighting for the rights of workers.”
According to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, “The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, abandons decades of commonsense precedent. In this case, a bare majority of the court, over the vigorous dissent of four justices, has conceded to the dark web of corporations and wealthy donors who wish to take away the freedoms of working people. Until it is overturned, this decision will be a political stain on what is intended to be the most honorable, independent body in the world. But more importantly, it will further empower the corporate elites in their efforts to thwart the aspirations of millions of working people standing together for a better life.
“But here’s the thing: America is heading in a different direction,” Trumka continued. “All over the country, workers are organizing and taking collective action as we haven’t seen in years. More than 14,000 workers recently formed or joined unions in just a single week. This followed a year where 262,000 workers organized and the approval rating of unions reached a nearly 14-year high. Working families know the best way to get a raise, better benefits and a voice on the job is through a union contract. The corporate narrative of the labor movement’s downfall is being dismantled by working people every single day.”
International Association of Machinists President Robert Martinez Jr. stated, “The Janus decision is just the latest tactic of corporations and wealthy donors who want to take away our freedom at work. The radical right will never defeat a wave of working people joining together for a better life. Union membership is growing and we will continue to organize, mobilize and defeat those who want to destroy unions and silence workers. This is war and working people are going to fight back.”
“It’s perfectly clear working people can’t get a fair hearing before the corporate- controlled Supreme Court,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said. “We are recommitted to mobilizing and organizing. This was about corporate CEOs and wealthy special interests rigging the economy.”
International Association of Fire Fighters President Harold Schaitberger said, “We are ready to take the best punch and deliver some blows ourselves to those that want to see fire fighters and their unions weakened. Every attack can be turned into an opportunity, and we are determined not to let this decision hold us back. The IAFF has operated successfully under Janus-like rules in right-to-work and non-collective bargaining states for decades. We have proven you can have strong affiliates that deliver better pay, health care, retirement security, health and safety provisions and a voice in keeping their communities safe in these tough environments. We represent more than 85 percent of all professional fire fighters and paramedics in the U.S. because we consistently demonstrate our value, through our strong affiliates, that being union fire fighters provides a significantly better standard of living and safer working environment than those who are not union. That difference will become even more stark, and we are working to represent that small percentage of fire fighters who aren’t in our union so that we can raise their standard of living and increase their ability to have a strong voice in public safety.”
American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox noted, “On behalf of the wealthiest one percent and special interest groups, the Supreme Court has attempted to strike the death knell for public-sector unions, but the workers themselves will ultimately decide their own fate. Workers know the importance of unions in the workplace and they will survive…. If you’re covered by the union contract but you don’t belong to the union, it’s time to join your union and pay for the benefits you receive – because those benefits could vanish tomorrow unless workers take a stand and fight for their rights at the worksite.”
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said, “Our members are sticking with us and we are sticking with the community. We will continue fighting, organizing, campaigning, showing up – and voting. We’re doubling down.”
The AFL-CIO pointed out, “When union membership is high, entire communities enjoy wages that represent a fair return on their work and greater social and economic mobility. And unions use our collective voice to advocate for policies that benefit all working people – like increases to the minimum wage, affordable health care, and great public schools.”
‘Black-Robed Rulers Overriding Citizens’ Choices’
Justice Elena Kagan penned the dissention to the Court’s ruling on Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg and Sotomayor. Below are excerpts from the full dissention.
“There is no sugarcoating today’s opinion,” Kagan wrote. “The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this Nation’s law – and in its economic life – for over 40 years. As a result, it prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance.
‘But the worse part of today’s opinion is where the majority subverts all known principles of stare decisis. The majority makes plain, in the first 33 pages of its decision, that it believes Abood was wrong. But even if that were true (which it is not), it is not enough.
“Over 20 States have by now enacted statutes authorizing fair-share provisions. To be precise, 22 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico – plus another two States for police and firefighter unions. Many of those States have multiple statutory provisions, with variations for different categories of public employees…. Every one of them will now need to come up with new ways – elaborated in new statutes – to structure relations between government employers and their workers. The majority responds, in a footnote no less, that this is of no proper concern to the Court….
“And maybe most alarming, the majority has chosen the winners by turning the First Amendment into a sword, and using it against workaday economic and regulatory policy. Today is not the first time the Court has wielded the First Amendment in such an aggressive way…. And it threatens not to be the last. Speech is everywhere – a part of every human activity (employment, health care, securities trading, you name it). For that reason, almost all economic and regulatory policy affects or touches speech. So the majority’s road runs long. And at every stop are black-robed rulers overriding citizens’ choices. The First Amendment was meant for better things. It was meant not to undermine but to protect democratic governance – including over the role of public-sector unions.”
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