Hundreds gathered in front of the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court as justices heard arguments in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Council 31, in Washington D.C. on Monday, February 26 – a landmark case that can affect the future of organized labor.
The case brought by plaintiff Mark Janus, a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, deals with whether workers who benefit from union-negotiated contracts can avoid paying union dues if they opt not to join the union. It would reverse a 1977 ruling that allows states to require government employees who don’t want to be union members to pay for their share of activities the union undertakes on behalf of all workers, not just its members.
A ruling in Janus’ favor could gut public sector unions by removing a key revenue stream. Labor organizers argue that workers who benefit from union representation, but do not pay dues, get a “free ride.” (Median weekly earnings for unionized public sector workers are 19.5% higher than non-unionized public sector workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) As a result, many union members will be incentivised to stop paying dues, too. Conservatives argue that the unions are political, and people shouldn’t have to join a union they disagree with on politics. It would be a violation of Janus’ First Amendment speech rights, they argue.
The very same issue was argued before the Supreme Court just two years ago in Friedrichs v. CTA, but when Justice Scalia died shortly after oral arguments, that case was left unresolved, with the other eight Justices evenly divided on strict ideological lines. Trump’s appointee, Chief Justice Neil Gorsuch, is now expected to break the deadlock. Now that the issue is back, the Trump administration has switched the government’s position to oppose the unions and there is every reason to believe Gorsuch will side with the court’s other conservatives. The Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity turned out in force on Monday to support Janus.
View Jeff Malet’s photos from the Supreme Court on Monday; and from a “Working People’s Day of Action” pro-union rally on Freedom Plaza in Washington D.C. on the preceding Saturday by clicking on the photo icons below.