by Daveda Gruber:
Mark Janus could be a potential constitutional game-changer but he is downplaying his role.
He worked for years as an Illinois state employee. Janus pays about $550 annually to the powerful public-sector union known as AFSCME.
Janus said, “I just look at it as an average guy just standing up for his own rights of free speech. I’d kind of like my money instead of going to the union and their causes go toward more civic health such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts. There are so many causes that need help and assistance.”
He is not a member of the union but he is required under state law to hand over a weekly portion of his paycheck. He claims this is a violation of his constitutional rights.
Janus said, “I work for Health and Family Services, and I’m forced to pay money to a union that then supports political causes that I don’t agree with.”
Janus’ free-speech fight is before the Supreme Court. The court will hold arguments in the appeal on Monday. The political and financial stakes are enormous for the wide-ranging American labor union movement. It already has begun pressing the panic button about the consequences should the justices rule for Janus.
John Scearcy is the secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 117, representing 16,000 workers in Washington state.
Scearcy said, “Unions would lose resources, contracts would become weaker, and the membership would become divided. There is a strong likelihood that your voice as a public sector union member could be significantly weakened.”
The Supreme Court is being asked to overturn its four-decade-old ruling over so-called “fair share” fees which allows states to require government employees to pay money which supports collective bargaining and other union activities. They currently pay whether they join the union or not.
The current case applies only to state employees but the impact could affect unions nationwide.
When the issue was revisited two years ago, the Supreme Court had deadlocked. This occurred just after Justice Antonin Scalia suddenly died.
Scalia’s President Trump-picked replacement is expected to be the deciding vote this time.
Justice Neil Gorsuch told senators his record backing workers was strong. He faced strong labor union opposition at his confirmation hearings last spring.
Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, who is from Janus’ home state, supports the unions in this case.
Gorsuch told Durbin, “If we’re going to pick and choose cases out of 2,700, I can point you to so many in which I have found for the plaintiff in an employment action, or affirmed the finding of an agency of some sort, for the worker.”
Trump’s Justice Department has been clear on its position. In December it announced it was reversing course from the previous administration and supporting Janus.
U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, in a note to the high court, in a note the high court wrote, “The [Obama-led] government’s previous briefs gave insufficient weight to the First Amendment interest of public employees in declining to fund speech on contested matters of public policy.”
Janus, aged 65, says he does not want to destroy the unions. He thinks workers have a right to organize. Still, he opposes having to pay for a union’s lobbying efforts at a time when the state of Illinois is facing a crippling financial crisis.
Janus is being represented by the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center.
Jacob Huebert, the group’s director of litigation said, “In many states, workers are forced to give money to a union whether they want to or not. And when they do that they’re funding union politics. Not all workers want to support that union agenda, just because they’ve taken a government job.”
Labor leaders oppose alleged “free riding” by workers like Janus. They say they have a legal duty to advocate for all employees.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO said, “Everybody deserves the power to win better wages and benefits and retirement security whether you’re in a union or not in a union. That’s how we build an economy that works for everyone.”
There are around 28 states that have supposed “right-to-work laws” that prohibit or limit union security agreements between companies and workers’ unions.
States that do allow “fair share” fees say they go to a variety of activities that benefit all workers. It makes no difference if they are in the union or not. That would include collective bargaining for wage and benefit increases, grievance procedures, and workplace safety.
The employees who do not join a union, do not have to pay for a union’s “political” activities. Both sides of the issue are in conflict over when that would occur.
Elizabeth Wydra, president of The Constitutional Accountability Center said, “I think people who are in public sector unions are very concerned about their viability going forward. Certainly opponents of unions see this case as something that they hope will substantially diminish the power of labor. But make no mistake, this case is a very serious potential blow to the union movement.”
People watching the court say the legal and political stakes in the Janus case could very well determine the future of the union movement.
For more information as to how this case will be decided, the case is Janus v. AFSCME and Madigan (16-1466). A ruling is expected by late June.
A PDF File is available.