In anticipation of today’s oral arguments for Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, rallies across the country were held. Saturday’s "Working People's Day of Action" rally in St. Paul highlighted the crucial role that union members play in building better lives for all Minnesotans.
“For decades, teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters and many others who provide the public services we rely on have joined together to speak up for themselves, their families and their communities,” said Mary Falk, an AFSCME member who works at Anoka Technical College. “But those behind the Janus case do not want working people to have that freedom.”
Janus v. AFSCME is a lawsuit filed by Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee. The suit challenges the authority of AFSCME and other public-sector employee unions to collect fair share fees from all employees they represent. If decided in Janus' favor, the case would make the entire public sector "right-to-work."
Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 is only the latest Supreme Court case in the last 5 years to try and decimate the ability of organized labor to defend the interest of workers.
Who are behind these challenges to public sector unions and what is their agenda?
At a Monday press conference in St Paul, union members organized under the coalition, "Public Sector Union Alliance" spoke out against the newest attack on working people.
Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota,
framed the case as the culmination of longstanding attacks against public sector unions. She said that a positive ruling for Janus, “will cause real pain for real families.” Dennis Frazier, a St. Louis County child protection worker and president of AFSCME Local 66
used more forceful terms, “no billionaire will take away our union!” Lina Jamoul, executive director of MAPE,
speculated that the reason why billionaires are targeting public sector unions is that they have, “a fear of workers and what our collective voice can do.”
The initiation of the case
is attributed to billionaire Illinois Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. In 2015 he filled an executive order halting the collection of union dues from nonmembers or fair share payers.
Research from the Economic Policy Institute
(EPI) echoes the perspective of "Public Sector Union Alliance." To figure out who these wealthy individuals are EPI reviewed over 1,000 financial transactions. EPI’s research indicates that,
“The fair share cases are being financed by a small group of foundations with ties to the largest and most powerful corporate lobbies. These organizations and the policymakers they support have succeeded in advancing a policy agenda that weakens the bargaining power of workers. In Janus, these interests have focused their attack on public-sector workers—the workforce with the highest union density.”
EPI created this chart based on the financial transactions they scoured.
Attacks by foundations funded by the wealthy against unions disproportionately impact women and Black people. According to a National Women’s Law Center
analysis, women make up 55 percent of union-represented public-sector workers, and a 2010 analysis from the Center for Economic and Policy Researc
h shows that Black people are 30 percent more likely to hold public-sector jobs.
Instead of highlighting this disparity, media coverage has instead focused almost uniformly on the personal stories of Mark Janus and the complex legalities of the case. That coverage obscures the bigger picture, explains research from In These Times.
“The focus should be on the conservative advocacy groups. … ALEC, SPN and the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity have all worked hand in glove over the past several years to cut back the strength of public-sector unions. The effects of this case will be felt far beyond the plaintiffs.”
In These Times research reveals another layer of funding for these cases. It is typical for those not listed in the lawsuit that have an interest in the case to file supporting amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs or amicus briefs. The chart below shows the business-centric organizations that filed amicus briefs supporting the Janus lawsuit and who is funding them.
These groups played a crucial role in the ascension of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the now infamous ACT 10 legislation. In 2011 Act 10 was passed by a majority Republican legislature. It dramatically limited collective bargaining for most public employees.
Unions have filed their own lawsuits in response to Janus v. AFSCME
. Recently two Wisconsin locals, Operating Engineers of Wisconsin Local 139 and Local 420 filed a lawsuit
arguing that Act 10 violates free speech and free association.
As reported in The Intercept
overall the “lawsuits are a warning to the Supreme Court that if it buys into an extreme conservative argument being used to undermine labor unions, the justices are going to take a lot more than just agency fees down with them.”
Arguably a ruling in favor of Janus could open up a new set of legal possibilities.
Outside of the courtroom members of the "Public Sector Union Alliance" are determined to fight. At today's press conference Mike Poke a custodian at Wayzata Public schools and SEIU 284
member exclaimed that “no court case will stop us from fighting.” For Poke having a union has made a substantive change in his workplace and the lives of young learners. Knowing that he is supported by his union has given him the ability, “to fight for students especially students of color.”