In Janus v AFSCME, Illinois Case Could Impact Union Membership Across the US and Upset the Balance of Political Power

Washington, February 26, 2018 — The US Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in a case that arose out of Springfield, Illinois but could have a major impact on labor law across the United States.

Gov Rauner at the US Supreme Court following hearing of the Janus case

The case actually started with a suit brought by Gov Rauner that challenged the right of workers to opt out of joining a union at work.  The union in question is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME.

That initial challenge by the Governor was thrown out as the Governor “did not have standing”  — a legal term that means only those who are directly impacted can bring a suit to alter an outcome of existing law. And the Governor was not a member of the union.

Enter Mark Janus, an employee of the State of Illinois, who brought the suit that contends he should not be forced to join AFSCME and pay union dues.   Part of the argument is that Janus doesn’t wish his money to go to support causes and candidates that he personally doesn’t support.

This is not the first time such suits have been brought or challenges made against forced unionization.

There have been a number of challenges over the years that sought to give workers “the right to work” without joining a union or to avoid having their union dues spent to support candidates with whom they disagree.

The concept of majority rule in a vote for a union should then be applied to all workers at a place of work, arose from the National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA, which was part of FDR’s New Deal, and was ruled constitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1937, said labor unions could represent ALL workers by just a majority vote at a place of work, as the members who wished to have a union were protected by the right freedom of association.

But those who are opposed to forcing the minority members of such a vote on unionization argue the freedom of association should give them the right to opt out of a union they do not wish to be a part of.

THAT argument was noted in one such article on the subject, written in July 2002 that was published by the Foundation for Economic Education, which said in part, “The NLRA violates individual workers’ freedom of association in two ways: forced representation and forced payment of agency fees. First, under the principle of exclusive (monopoly) representation, when a union has been approved as bargaining agent by a majority of workers on a job, that union also becomes the bargaining agent for those workers who voted against the union, as well as for those workers who didn’t vote. Individual members are even forbidden to represent themselves. Other freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, such as freedom of religion and freedom of speech, are not subject to majority rule. Neither should freedom of association be subject to majority rule.

NLRA also forces many workers who are represented by unions against their will to pay those unions for the representation they do not want. This is called “union security,” but it is forced association. No worker’s fundamental human rights should be sacrificed simply to provide unions with financial security.”

Unions argue that majority rule is a basic foundation of a democracy and that those in the minority may not opt out of the result of an election.

Unions also argue that those workers who voted against unionization, still enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining, in higher wages, pensions, healthcare and other improvements in the workplace that would be impossible to achieve but for the ability of labor to be organized and represented as a whole in labor negotiations.

Unions also say it would be unfair for them to incur the cost of unionizing, and potentially going on strike in an effort to win better wages and benefits, only to have those workers who opted out of the union then enjoy those same benefits.

Beyond labor law, this case could also have a dramatic impact on national elections and the makeup of Congress.  The Democratic Party, already in the minority in both the US House and Senate, received the vast majority of over $160 million donated by unions to candidates for public office.

Should the US Supreme Court find in favor of Janus, with the result that those current union workers who wish to leave the union could do so — it is unclear how many laborers, teachers, and others would leave — taking their union dues with them.

Pit the loss of potentially millions of dollars in union dues that would go to support Democratic candidates, against the 2010 US Supreme Court ruling in “Citizens United v FEC” that allows corporations can give as much money to a political cause or candidate as they wish, and it is possible the competitive nature of Republicans v Democrats that currently holds, could be undone.

The ruling in the Janus case is not expected until June, when the US Supreme Court issues its rulings on cases heard in the current term.