In ruling a that will adversely affect the working class movement in United States, the US Supreme Court on Wednesday, struck down the “fair share” provision, which required public sector employees to pay fees or dues to their unions— which collectively bargain on behalf of those employees— with a slim 5-4 majority. The fees, according to the judgement violated the First Amendment.
The ruling is most likely to adversely impact the wage increase negotiations in public sector in the coming years, since the bargaining power of the unions stand to be reduced. The unions also point that the judgement will also affect the struggle for racial equality.
As a result of this ruling, labour unions will now have to lobby public employees to pay the full union fees or dues. According to the union members, with this ruling, the court effectively sides with the economic interests of rich billionaires and big businesses at the expense of working class struggle.
The pension schemes for workers across the country could also be affected negatively. Many states already have underfunded pension schemes, and this ruling could lead them to abandon those schemes altogether or force their workers to get on less beneficial pension plans.
The quality of public services, including K-12 education (kindergarten to grade 12), would also get adversely affected because of the decline in the power of teachers and other public education unions, who have been the most vocal advocates student and public education in the country.
As for how this ruling will adversely affect the economic condition of American workers, Al Neal, a political affairs journalist and associated with the trade union movement in the US speaking to The Dawn News noted that “Janus will end up costing unions millions of dollars in lost “fair share” contract fees from non-union members, while still having to represent non-members, enforce the contract, and pay for legal costs associated with collective bargaining.
“They will also lose tens of thousands of union members–726,000 nationwide according to calculations by the University of Illinois labor studies institute. It is also expected to cost individual union members $1,700 or more in wages overtime,” he added.
Lee Saunders, AFSCME president, called the ruling an “unprecedented and nefarious political attack – designed to further rig the rules against working people”.
Al also said that this ruling reinforces the right-wing’s support of corporate interest over working people and allows the Republican party and Trump to appeal to their more extreme right-leaning bases under the pretext of individual freedom and free choice of association, while hailing it as a victory against “greedy” labor bosses loyal to the Democratic party. In the long run, this ruling will continue to strengthen the conservative push towards the national Right to Work legislation, which earlier this week, US President Donald Trump said he would support.
Justice Elena Kagan, in her dissenting opinion in the case, wrote that “today’s ruling takes the country back 40 years”. She also noted that the first amendment was being used like a weapon for judges to interfere in the economic affairs of the country.
Al Neal noted that prior to the Janus ruling, the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) launched a digital and print “Join the Union” ad campaign. This campaign highlighted that organizing a union is the only “real” way for workers to gain better benefits, wages, and equity on the job. Now, the next plan of action according to labor leaders is working with pro-worker legislators in Congress to draft legislation that would make it easier for workers to organize. On the job site, unions will most likely focus on one-on-one conversations with public sector workers and members, discussing the effects of the ruling, and re-signing workers onto union cards.
According to Al, Janus is a case about public employees in the state and local government. The federal court’s holding has no direct impact on the private-sector, federal employees, or collective bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act, the Railway Labor Act, or the Federal Service Labor Management Relations Act. The collection of fair share fees is going to remain lawful in the private sector.
It does not affect the unions’ status as the exclusive worker representative in a bargaining unit, does not changes how union dues are collected, does not restrict union members rights to participate in electoral politics through their unions, and it does not change the relationship between the union and its membership.
The Janus ruling overruled a previous Supreme Court decision in this matter. In 1977, in Abbod v. Detroit Board of Education, the court had ruled in favour of the unions against Detroit Teacher D. Louis Abbod, who had refused to pay membership or agency fees to a teachers’ union that had a different political leaning than his own. The court dismissed this argument, also ruling that the fees could not be used for lobbying or political activity. Even the employees who are not members, will have to pay fees for collective bargaining and other apolitical services.
Currently, the “fair share” provision is in place in 22 states. In 28 states, the “right to work” provision forbids employers from including “fair share” requirements in employment contracts.
Mark Janus, a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Service, brought his case to the Supreme Court in 2017. Janus is represented by the AFSCME union. 78% of the full union dues are deducted from his paycheck even though he is not a union member. He argued that his $45 monthly fee to the union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), was unconstitutional because it violated his first amendment rights.