On Monday, February 26 the Supreme Court begins to hear arguments in the case Janus vs. AFSCME. This case is about the payment of dues by public union employees.
As of now, all public unions collect so-call “agency fees” or “fair-share fees” from employees, even from those who are not official members of the union (i.e. they never signed a union membership form). These dues are often deducted automatically from an employee’s paycheck.
These are not the dues that pay for union political activity, for example, to endorse certain legislative candidates or lobby for political causes. Any employee can sign a form to have these political fees reimbursed if they disagree with the type of political causes or candidates the union supports.
Rather, “agency fees” or “fair-share fees” are contributions made by employees to pay for the work the union does on a daily basis, for example, to ensure that all employees have good salaries, benefits and working conditions, are provided representation if accused of something that might result in discipline, and can come together for educational and social activities. These benefits are provided by the union to all employees, union members or not. [For more about all the things AAUP does for CCSU faculty, see What We Do, At CCSU, Beyond CCSU, Membership and Member Benefits, Part-Time Faculty]
If the Supreme Court finds in favor of Janus in this decision, it will be illegal for unions to collect any fees from employees who have not signed up as union members. Legally the union still will have to provide the same services to so-called “free rider” non-members as to dues paying members, but they cannot ask that non-members pay for them. In sort, public employees can get something for nothing.
Why is this happening? It all began when Mark Janus, a municipal employee in Illinois, argued that he should not be forced to pay to support collective bargaining because, as he claimed, it is just as “political” as campaigning. In other words, his argument is that a person who does not believe in the value of unions or collective bargaining for public employees should not have to contribute any money to them, even if he or she benefits from the higher wages and better working conditions the union secures. This is because employees have the right to free speech and association and should not be compelled to pay for what they don’t believe in.
The problem with this argument is that other collective organizations are allowed to do just this – ask for payment for services that a person may not believe in. The federal government makes all citizens pay taxes so that it has the money for protection and to provide services that help people. If you are a pacifist who disagrees with the government’s use of the military, your right to free speech does not mean you don’t have to pay the taxes that support the military. The same is true of all other services like policing, environmental protection, social security, etc. You may disagree with these things and can say so publicly, but you still have to pay for them.
So clearly Janus is not about freedom of speech or association; it is not intended to protect “a small, oppressed subset of teachers, policemen and firefighters across America” who “want to stop paying dues because they hold beliefs that clash with those of their unions.” Rather, it is an attempt to destroy unions altogether; “Janus is at bottom a bid to undermine America’s labour movement.” [Read more]
The groups that initiated this case assume that most people want to get something for nothing. They think the majority of public sector workers will chose not to pay for union services. They will become “free riders” and benefit from union representation without paying for it. As a result, the unions will lose millions of dollars, especially because they still have to provide those services with less money to pay for them. In those states where this practice already is the law (so-called “Right to Work” states), a decline in union membership and in union finances has already been seen. So clearly this is the intent.
If unions are financially compromised, they cannot support the causes of workers or those progressive leaders who work to give the majority of the population a better lifestyle. In fact, this is the ultimate goal behind the Janus case. There is clear evidence that a “network of conservative thinktanks” has spent millions of dollars to “defund and defang” public sector unions so that progressive politicians will never be elected again and state and federal government will be permanently in the hands of the right-wing. [Read more]
How do we stop this attack on our right to organize as workers and use our collective power to lead better lives?