President Trump wants to combine the Departments of Labor and Education. Governor Rauner wants to end “fair share” payments by workers in union shops who share in the benefits from organized labor but don’t join the union. These workers are required by law to make a “fair share” payment (negotiated between the union and management) to compensate the union for its service.
The fair-share attack, in the form of a suit, Janus v AFSCME, currently before the Supreme Court, could deal a near death-blow to public-sector unions. The federal merger’s impact is less clear.
But it isn’t a positive move, according the the University of Illinois’ Bob Bruno.
“My perspective is it’s an absurd idea,” he begins. “These are two distinct departments with two very focused and different agendas, and any attempt really to merge them I think it just hides the intent to shrink the size of government. The two units aren’t going to be stronger as one. It’s going to weaken really their capacity to invest in children’s education and also protect workers’ changing labor market, changing work places, so this is a terrible idea and the intent I’m sure is simply to further shrink government services.”
“One has to look at what is the agenda behind the scenes here,” adds AFSCME’s Anders Lindall. “Where did this come from? What’s been publicly reported is that this file is a blueprint laid out by the right-wing corporate-funded Heritage Foundation, and…it’s the same powerful wealthy corporate interests who are behind the Janus case are also behind trying to gut our health and education and workforce protections.
The Supreme Court, which is expected to rule at any time on Janus, is widely thought to be hostile to AFSCME in this case and favorable – at least in its majority – toward Janus. “Fair share” has been in place since a SCOTUS ruling 40 years ago and there haven’t been any widespread arguments against the concept until now. We ask if there may be a surprise in the making. That perhaps Justice Roberts, with his widely-know appreciation for precedent – might not wish to upset this apple-cart.
Bruno, who wrote recently about this in the Tribune, says he asked the same thing. “Aren’t these originalists? Aren’t these folks who have made a career out of saying judicial activism is a bad thing, right? Here you have 40 years of a case. There is not a legal record of how this is a problem. It doesn’t exist, right? We are talking minimally 5-million, 6-million workers, thousands of contracts, at least 23 states, and the court is simply going to jump in here, overrule the precedent and is going to wipe out 23 state collective bargaining laws impacting millions of workers, thousands of contracts without a legal record of harm. That seems to me like judicial activism. So how can you be acting principally if he has to overturn? How can Neil Gorsuch be acting? How can Clarence Thomas be acting principally? It’s because they’re not making a legal argument. This is a political assault on organized labor,” he asserts.
“It is Bruce Rauner who brought this case,” adds Lindall. “It is Bruce Rauner who became Governor for no greater purpose than to wipe out the labor movement in Illinois, starting with the public service unions, AFSCME, the service employees and the teachers. And you know if there has been an advantage to that it is that all of our members have been deeply engaged in the last 3, 4, or 5 years in these existential fights to protect their jobs from being outsourced for private profit, to protect their affordable healthcare from Rauner trying to double their premiums overnight, taking $10,000 out of their pocket.
Rauner, says Lindall, attacked Fair Share from his earliest days. “He said, “I am not going to honor fair share agreements,” and that was all about trying to drain the resources from the union. That backfired on him. 2,000 state employees came to the union and said, “This guy doesn’t speak for us,” and they signed a union contract.”
We’re all aware of the fact that, while we’re at “full employment” in the US, a condition in which there are theoretically more open jobs than people seeking them, salaries have not been rising. Bruno says that’s due in part to the fact that workers have been less and less able to act collectively. “You’re not going to be able to be an at-will employee and negotiate better working conditions,” he explains. “You are going to need the group, so it’s in your self-interest to understand that your power is collectively – it’s collectively organized. In fact, if you want any real evidence of that, the oral arguments, the Janus case, it was very clear that the conservative justices were fine. If Anders wants to walk into Ken, and you are in the employer and he wants to negotiate his pay, that’s fine, you can do that, and that’s not a First Amendment infringement. But if Anders takes me in there and I take another ten people, wait a minute now. All of a sudden now it’s a First Amendment infringement. Well the whole point of that is collectively workers have voice. Singly they have none. Isn’t that a Joe Hill song or something?”
Lindall adds that State workers already have evidence of the effectiveness of collective bargaining, because they’ve experienced its power recently. “I think it’s clear that AFSCME members, they recognize that if it hadn’t been for the Union to litigate it all the way to the State Supreme Court, their pension would have been cut,” he claims.
We turn to speculation about what happens after Janus (which happens to be the title of Bruno’s recent report.) “This is certainly not a scenario that labor wanted to be in. But, there is this opportunity to go back deep inside your own membership to remind one another what it means when we act collectively, why we need each other, more so now than ever before. So unions like AFSCME and the teacher unions – they have begun a deep dive into their membership, one on one conversations, contacting people. And yes, our study suggests one would expect that there will be some defection. There will be some reduction.
But maybe what ends up happening is for a short period of time, and these things are always cyclical right, and we’re not sure how this is all going to play out years down the road, but maybe you end up with a drop in membership. But what if the members you have now are all activists?”
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Read a full transcript of the show here: CN transcript June 21 2018