WASHINGTON, D.C. – Labor unions are preparing for the worst after the U.S. Supreme Court last week announced it would consider a case that could have serious financial implications for Big Labor.
President Trump’s appointment of conservative-leaning Justice Neil Gorsuch has tiled the court to the right, and labor leaders are concerned that the case, which centers on forced union “agency fees,” will lead to a mass exodus of members who are currently forced to pay for union services they don’t want.
According to Governing:
The lead plaintiff, Mark Janus, is a child support worker in Illinois who argues his free speech rights are being violated by the requirement that he pay the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the largest public employee union in the country, even though he chose not to join it and does not support its political views and positions.
Illinois is currently one of 22 states where nonunion members still have to pay so-called agency fees to unions that negotiate on their behalf.
If the Supreme Court rules that making agency fees mandatory is unconstitutional, unions in those states fear the loss of revenue from existing nonunion members and the loss of more members, who could quit unions if granted the right to avoid the paycheck deduction. Such a scenario would weaken unions’ bargaining power and their political clout.
“I’d place a bet that this doesn’t bode well for public-sector unions,” Baylor University political science professor Patrick Flavin told the news site.
Labor leaders seem to be coming to the same conclusion.
The nations four largest public-sector unions, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees are already attacking the case as “a blatantly political and well-funded plot to use the highest court in the land to further rig the economic rules against everyday working people,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
AFT President Rhonda Weingarten said “these powerful interests want to gut one of the (last) remaining checks on their control – a strong and unified labor movement that fights for equality and opportunity for all, not just the privileged few.”
Union officials talk about equality and economic rules for “everyday working people,” but ignore the equality of public employees and “everyday working people” who are currently forced against their will to pay for union services they don’t want.
And passage of right-to-work laws in Michigan, Wisconsin and other states in recent years has made it clear there’s a lot of people itching to ditch their unions at the earliest opportunity.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel highlighted the “fast and hard fall since Act 10,” legislation adopted in 2011 that severely limited union collective bargaining and freed employees from forced union dues.
“The bottom line: 132,000 fewer union members, mostly teachers and other public workers — enough to fill Lambeau Field and Miller Park, with thousands more tailgating outside,” the news site reported last year.
“The decline has put Wisconsin, the birthplace of public-employee unions, near the bottom third of states for unionized workforce.”
The Michigan Education Association, the state’s teachers union, has also struggled since the state adopted right-to-work in 2013.
“While awaiting a decision in the Janus case, unions aren’t sitting quietly on the sidelines,” Governing reports. “They are already beginning to wage a campaign to persuade employees about the importance of union membership and of the negative consequences of being a ‘freeloader.’”
In the past, public sector unions made little effort to justify the high cost of union dues and agency shop fees because the payments were automatic, built into state law. If the Janus case comes out the way many predict, it will force unions to justify their services or face lost revenues, though many folks seem to think such justification will be a hard sell.
“If unions can convince all of their members to continue to pay dues voluntarily, they’ll be able to survive,” Harvard law professor Benjamin Sachs told Governing.
“In order for the public-sector labor movement to recover, they’d have to pretty substantially change the model they’re operating under,” Columbia University professor Alexander Hertel-Fernandez told the news site.