Awaiting Final Judgment…
The Supreme Court is very close to the end of its current term. From day to day, they have been delivering multiple crucial rulings, but have not yet come down with a ruling on the Janus v. AFSCME. I’ve spoken a bit about that case in other posts. It’s pretty vital to the Unions of public sector unions, and as a result, VERY important to the Teachers’ Union.
In case you aren’t familiar with the case, here’s a brief summary:
The case is named after Mark Janus, a child support specialist for the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services. The job is a union position under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Janus is not a member of the union, but is required to pay “fair share” dues. The dues are meant to offset the cost of the union negotiating labor contracts and undertaking other activities that benefit members. Janus is arguing that even reduced fair share dues violate his free speech rights because he disagrees with many positions taken by AFSCME, and that everything the public employee union does is inherently political, by definition.
AFSCME disputes that argument and says that Janus is free to express disagreement with the union. AFSCME also notes that the union is required by law to represent workers in union positions, even if they choose not to belong to the union. So, to be direct with that last part…since the union is the sole representative of employees by state law in Illinois…if he STOPS paying any dues, they still need to represent him.
It’s a pretty complex case. Currently 28 states are “right to work,” or states where union membership is not mandatory for public sector employees. Interestingly, those states typically have greater union commitment, and are the states where we have seen massive recent efforts through walkouts. One could argue that the unions are actually stronger in the “right to work” states…although arguably make less revenue, due to the voluntary aspect.
The two hundred page AFSCME Council 31 contract exemplifies how the demands of public employee unions have grown to the extreme in Illinois government and why Janus got fed up. Overtime costs, seniority rules, a hyperactive grievance process, health care plans heavily subsidized by taxpayers, costly pensions and worker protections that keep bad employees on the job have soured the image of public employee unions. To many people on both the inside and the outside, they’ve gone too far.
On the political side, the union (AFSCME, although the same is true of UTLA) is an operative in political campaigns. Its leaders interview and endorse candidates up and down the ballot. They provide staff for petition-gathering and campaign strategy. They dump cash into dozens of races. They coordinate with other unions and political party officials to elect and defeat candidates.
This is why Janus grew increasingly frustrated, along with Governor Bruce Rauner who filed the original case. Janus didn’t support the union’s posture on policy or politics, which are fundamentally intertwined. Yet AFSCME could snatch “fair share” dues from his state paycheck and he couldn’t stop it. If the U.S. Supreme Court rules for Janus, it won’t mean public employee unions are dead in Illinois, or anywhere else. What it will mean is that union leaders will have to work harder to persuade workers to keep paying. AFSCME (and all public sector unions) will have to prove its worth to the membership.
If it does not prove its worth, employees such as Janus (and possibly me) can be let out of union membership and mandatory “fair share” fees. From the beginning, that’s all he wanted — to be his own advocate on the job, not a tool of a political organization whose activities he opposed. I feel the same way pretty often.
My union has been attempting to protect against this with its “All In” campaign. That was the “re-commitment paperwork” that we were all supposed to sign, and I didn’t. To be honest, I didn’t actually read it at any point, because to me, it seemed superfluous. I was a mandatory member of the UTLA Union, they didn’t need my paperwork again. At my school 23 people felt the same way as I did.
UTLA’s “All In” drive asking members to recommit “to our union by signing a new membership card” was WAY smarter than I gave it credit for. The reason for this is that the new for has members signing an “irrevocable” pledge promising never to resign except during a small window of time on an annual basis. the idea is to block people from resigning from the Union, when they later learned about the case.
Going into the Supreme Court’s final week of the term, four out of five teachers surveyed nationally knew nothing about the case, or how it might affect them. In that way, the “All In” paperwork seems pretty shady in my opinion…since no Union Rep that I know, or know of, was very well informed about the case. They really had no way to express to a member what their options might or might not be. Or no INTENTION to, since informing members of their options could result in a reduction of revenues.
If Mark Janus wins his case, there could be a sudden exodus from public sector unions. If my school is a normal exemplar of sentiment, about twenty percent of the staff are considering leaving. That’s not insignificant at all. Nationwide, the predictions by various public sector unions are considerably higher.
Waiting around for the verdict to come down is…getting old. There are only a few days left to the term, so the decision has to be soon. Every day I’m checking the news for updates, insights, and honestly, it seemed like today was going to be the Big Day. It wasn’t, obviously, and that’s what the art is all about.
In fact, I have a color piece ready for the day that the verdict happens, which is a milestone for the strip. I’ll get into that milestone when I finally get to finish and post that artwork, but it was a pretty big deal.
Cap has her Hulkbuster shirt on, just ready to do and deal with union Hulks and Darths. It’s worthless to do it before the Verdict comes in, just like its worthless for me to be “involved” in any other ways until we know the new lay of the land.
It’s entirely possible that the court will rule for AFSCME, and nothing will change at all. I’m prepared for that as well…precisely why I haven’t filled out any of the “All In” paperwork.
As has been the case a lot lately…fingers crossed, True Believers.