The Janus Coin.
I’ve avoided talking about a case in the Supreme Court of the United States for some time now. The reality is that next week oral arguments are going to be heard, and it is a HUGE deal for California educators. In fact, it affects pretty much all public sector unions.
The case is Janus vs. AFSCME, and has a huge amount in common with the more directly Teacher related Friedrichs vs. CTA. Today’s art is a reference to the current case’s name…Janus, which is also the name of the Two-Faced Roman God of Betrayal and Duality. That’s why we have the huge Two-Face coin from Batman in the background, see? Heck, Two-Face was even a Lawyer, so there’s that connection.
Again…next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31 case, which addresses a crucial (though convoluted) question for organized labor: Should public-sector workers who are not union members, but nonetheless covered by union-negotiated collective bargaining agreements be required to pay some form of union dues or fees?
For that matter…can I be compelled to pay Union dues at all to be a public sector employee, like a teacher? Especially if the payment of those dues might in effect circumvent my right to Free Speech? I’ll explain…
Mark Janus, the lead plaintiff in the case (not Harvey Two-Face), is a child support specialist for the state of Illinois, where a state law mandates that workers who are not union members but who are covered by union-negotiated collective bargaining agreements must “pay their proportionate share of the costs of the collective bargaining process, contract administration and pursuing matters affecting wages, hours and other conditions of employment.” (About half of the United States has similar laws on the books.) The same rule applies in California…through a convoluted process, I could actually NOT be a member of the Teacher’s Union, but they would STILL lift dues out of my check on a monthly basis.
In 2015, Janus sued his union (the AFSCME), saying that he disagreed with many of the union’s positions and alleging that the mandatory fees violate his First Amendment constitutional rights. In effect, they were using HIS dues money to support political campaigns, or politicians, that he DID NOT support, effectively negating his political voice. Here’s how Janus put it in a 2016 op-ed for the Chicago Tribune:
“The union voice is not my voice. The union’s fight is not my fight. But a piece of my paycheck every week still goes to the union. I am not anti-union. Unions have their place. And some people like them. But unions aren’t a fit for everyone. And I shouldn’t be forced to pay money to a union if I don’t think it does a good job representing my interests.”
Pretty reasonable viewpoint, actually.
As I mentioned before, the case is essentially a rerun of one the Supreme Court heard back in 2016, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. As with the Friedrichs case, Janus asks the Supreme Court to overturn a 1977 ruling, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which established the current precedent on mandatory union fees. The Abood ruling concluded that requiring workers like Janus to contribute to a union’s political activities was an unconstitutional violation of the worker’s First Amendment rights, but that requiring workers to contribute so-called “agency fees” toward the costs unions incur while conducting collective bargaining was constitutionally kosher. I’m not exactly sure how that plays out legally, but I’m not a lawyer. It’s the ruling that has stood for decades, that’s the important part.
Back in 2016, legal analysts expected the court to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, but the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia resulted in a deadlocked court. This deadlock left the mandatory fees in place, and started a race to get a similar case into the Supreme Court…hence the Janus case being heard now. Scalia’s replacement, Justice Neil Gorsuch, is widely expected to rule in favor of the plaintiffs and eliminate agency fees.
The ripple effects of such a ruling are hotly debated. Union advocates have argued that a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would effectively gut public-sector unions. They are right, if they are deaf to the needs of their constituent members, and try to conduct business as usual. The union concern is that a free rider problem will arise: Workers, who would be able to enjoy many of the benefits of membership (higher wages achieved via collective bargaining, etc.) without those pesky dues and fees, may opt to drop their membership to save a little cash. There’s little doubt that the elimination of agency fees would deprive unions of a significant source of revenue, many unions across the nation have been bracing for just that eventuality.
It is entirely possible that striking down agency fees might actually encourage public unions to become a social movement again, as they were in the late 1960s and early 1970s before such fees existed. For instance, the teachers’ unions would have to sincerely listen to the concerns of its most junior members, who make up their largest number of dues payers. Their concerns about representation would suddenly come into the foreground, and become central policy issues…as opposed to now, where they are largely ignored as transient members of the community (due to high teacher turnover).
If that happens, the teachers unions at least would cease to be a self serving, self absorbed entity deaf to the needs of the majority of its constituents. Considering that roughly ten percent of members vote in union elections (in UTLA), it is safe to say that a significant number of dues payers feel like they aren’t being heard, and already don’t participate. This lack of participation could easily turn into a lack of payment, unless the local unions, and state teachers’ unions, can shift gears to actually address the concerns of their gross membership, not simply the union die hards.
It’s hard to tell how this will affect the working environment of teaching, and hence, why Cap looks concerned. I disagree with UTLA on most things, and have often had them act at cross purposes to my beliefs as a teacher. I’d opt out of paying dues almost immediately…but like Janus, I don’t think that the union is an inherently bad thing. I do think that the existing teachers’ unions in California need to be more in touch with the real concerns and needs of their constituents, but I have said that a couple of times already.
Anyway…this is a Big Deal, and that’s my summary.
I did a version of the art for today with an background patterns, but didn’t like it as much as the foreground sketch alone. For completeness, I’m going to post the background version below.
Honestly, Two-Face is one of the most interesting characters in Batman’s rogue’s gallery. He also has a tendency to go after the younger partner (he actually referred to Robin as “the boy hostage”) so Cap’s partner should be on her toes. Oddly, not unlike with the Supreme Court case and her union representation.