The right-wing, anti-worker majority on the Supreme Court issued a ruling today against public-sector workers and their unions. In Janus v. AFSCME, five of the Supreme Court justices agreed with the billionaire- and corporate-funded National Right to Work Committee that public-sector unions should not be allowed to collect “fair share” fees from the workers they represent.
This ruling is intended to financially weaken unions so that employers can cut wages, slash benefits, and impose worse working conditions. The Illinois Economic Policy Institute has estimated that this decision could lower public-sector wages by an average of 4%, resulting in an overall loss of between $11.7 billion and $33.4 billion in economic activity as public-sector workers have less money to spend.
Janus is a blatantly ideological decision to weaken public workers’ organizations, and buttress the financial and electoral fortunes of the anti-worker Republican Party as the American people increasingly turn against their extreme right-wing agenda. A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that right-to-work laws are just one more tool for the ruling class to depress voter turnout.
Trump appointee Justice Neil Gorsuch is only on the Supreme Court due to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to hold confirmation hearings in 2018 for President Obama’s nominee for Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. McConnell has been explicit that “we’re putting a priority on changing the courts,” because he knows that the Republican agenda is simply not popular with the American people.
The anti-union legal arguments in Janus rest on whether the fair-share clause requiring workers to financially contribute to the union that negotiates their union contract is a violation of free speech rights. However, we know that the biggest threat to workers’ free speech is not their union, but their boss. UE Local 255’s contract at Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier VT provides an example of true free speech rights for workers, guaranteeing that “Employees have the right to express political, religious, and other beliefs and to engage in related activities without fear of reprisal or discipline,” including at work, provided it does not interfere with performing their duties. UE’s own constitution declares that no worker or union member should face discrimination because of their political beliefs, which made UE members and leaders the target of the right-wing assaults on unions during the McCarthy era.
We encourage all UE locals, and the broader labor movement, to challenge any laws that infringe on the constitutional rights of any workers, including public-sector workers, to protest their conditions by speaking out, picketing, striking, or engaging in boycotts.
Public workers will continue to organize and defend our rights to decent living and work standards despite court decisions and laws forbidding “fair share” fees. Vocal and militant actions by UE public-sector members and locals around the “right to work” South show the possibilities available to public workers to continue to defend and improve their working lives. UE locals in Indiana and Wisconsin, faced with the impact of new right-to-work laws in recent years, have mobilized and united their members to win some of their best contracts in decades, and have maintained high levels of membership. The key is UE’s brand of rank-and-file, member-driven, democratic unionism.
Meeting last August, delegates to UE’s 75th Convention declared that “In order to restore what rights have been lost, and to bring them to states where they were never won, worker power must be a credible threat to the employer — we must return to a period of widespread workplace agitation.” The willingness of teachers and other school workers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, North Carolina, Colorado and other states to strike in defiance of the law shows the way forward.
Director of Organization