By MIKE LEE
This case, Janus v. AFSCME, is expected to be heard during the court’s upcoming October term with a decision no later than next June.
Janus is the latest attempt by anti-union forces to take away public workers’ hard-won freedoms to organize, negotiate for fair pay and working conditions, as well as to strip them of their benefits.
Janus seeks to overturn the ability of unions to collect fees from agency fee payers, who enjoy the benefits of union representation without membership. A ruling may force public service workers’ unions into such a right-to-work environment.
For the rich and powerful 1 percenters and corporate CEOs, a legal victory in Janus will hurt a union’s ability to fight on behalf of workers by allowing agency fee payers to no longer pay dues while still enjoying the benefits and protections of the institution. This loss of income from dues will decrease the power of public sector unions nationwide and have a deleterious impact on working families struggling to survive in an stratified and rigged economy.
But above all, the likely consequence of the anticipated decision in the Janus case is to take away our workplace freedoms and benefits. With the recent appointment of Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, an overturning of decades of settled constitutional law regarding union rights in collecting dues from agency fee payers is likely.
With this in mind, unions nationwide are building a means of resistance and retrenchment to protect basic American freedoms against this never-ending onslaught by anti-labor forces.
Roberta Lynch, executive director of Illinois AFSCME Council 31, the respondent in Janus, wrote in a guest column for the Springfield State Journal-Register that, “When working people have the freedom to speak up together through unions, we make progress together that benefits everyone. The last thing America needs is an assault on the freedom to form strong unions and speak up for ourselves and our communities.”
Naomi Walker, assistant to American Federation of State, City and Municipal Employees President Lee Saunders, wrote in In These Times of the robust efforts DC 37’s national union has undertaken with the AFSCME Strong and Never Quit campaigns, which aim to encourage greater membership involvement in the union.
“Public sector unions are working on building stronger unions, organizing new members and connecting more deeply with existing members to stave off the threat posed by Janus,” she said. “So far, AFSCME leaders have talked to more than 616,000 members about committing to be in the union no matter what the court decides.”
President Saunders spoke of the fightback in preparing for the court’s decision. “We’ve developed a program called AFSCME Strong, which is essentially going back to basics,” he said.
Citing the continued strength of the union’s organizing efforts, Saunders pointed out that, “We grew by 12,000 members last year. We’re organizing not only on a national basis EMTs, we’re organizing in hospitals,” adding, “We are going to continue to identify the kinds of targets that should be organized.”
DC 37 has been at the leading edge in the fight to defend the freedoms of working families, engaging members and developing organizing strategies to prepare for the court decision next year.
“We look at this situation as opportunity,” said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido. “We have focused our organizing and campaign efforts toward building a stronger, more vital union to serve our community.”
“The power is within us. We will not be defeated,” Garrido said.
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 Public Employee Press.