Janus: An Attack on Working People


Teamsters and millions of other public sector union members could see their collective bargaining power significantly diminished if a legal case currently before the Supreme Court sides with anti-union actors.

The nation’s highest court heard oral arguments in “Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees” in late February.

The suit deals with an Illinois state government employee, Mark Janus, who doesn’t want to pay “fair share” fees covering contract bargaining and representation activities allowed as part of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act.

The case touched on many of the same issues raised in 2016’s “Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association,” in which the Supreme Court was largely expected to side with plaintiffs but ultimately deadlocked on after the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia left it with only eight members.

But with the addition of conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch last year, many believe Janus will prevail. A decision is expected before the end of the court’s term in June.

Power Building

“The ramifications of an adverse ruling will take away the freedom of working people to join together and have a voice through strong unions,” said Michael Filler, Director of the Teamsters Public Services Division.

“If the court overturns 40 years of precedent, it will immediately result in the loss of fee-payer revenue and trigger right to work within the public sector in every state across the country without the need for legislation,” Filler said.

In preparation for that possibility, Teamster locals that represent public employees have been working to implement the Public Service Division’s Power-Building Program, which is meant to convert fair-share payers into full union members.

Beefing up internal organizing is the key to combatting this latest threat against organized labor.

Teamsters joined pro-worker advocates at rallies in the nation’s capital and all around the country on February 24 that honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who stood up for workers as part of his advocacy efforts.

The Working Peoples’ Day of Action brought hardworking Americans together to support unions and their right to speak up for themselves, their families, their communities and the next generation of workers.

People like Laurence Young, who believes so strongly in the fight to ensure collective bargaining rights for public sector workers that he traveled cross country from his California home so he could be at the high court.

The University of California at Santa Barbara library employee, who is a business agent for Local 2010 at the campus, got into the court briefly to hear Justice Elena Kagan stand up in support of unions.

Outside the Supreme Court, he said he was energized by the hundreds of pro-union demonstrators who were fighting back against the corporate-fueled agenda.

“I see this case as affecting unions nationwide, not just public sector unions, so I see this as an attack on working people across the country,” Young said.

King County Teamsters

Public Employees in Washington Ratify Contracts

Public employees represented by Local 117 in Tukwila, Wash. recently approved strong contracts for 12 bargaining units in King County.

Turnout in the contract vote was historically high and all bargaining units overwhelmingly ratified their contracts, which has wage increases of 3.25 percent.

The agreements contain many improvements for the more than 1,200 Teamsters in the unit, including a provision for economic equity, expanded bereavement leave, protections against sub-contracting, professional development opportunities and other improvements.

“I want to congratulate our members at King County on their new contracts that provide across-the-board wage increases and critical workplace protections,” said John Scearcy, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 117.

Unions Benefit Workers

High Court Case is Cover for Anti-Union Advocates

Workers across the nation have repeatedly come under attack from corporate interests looking to tamp down on wages so they can pocket higher profits.

The latest example? A court case argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in February that seeks to gut public sector unions in an effort to reduce their effectiveness in the workplace.

Mark Janus is the plaintiff in “Janus v. AFSCME.” He is an Illinois social worker who is protesting the reduced union fees he must pay to cover contract negotiation and worker representation costs the union conducts on his behalf. But those backing him are a who’s who of anti-union activists who view the lawsuit as an opportunity to disarm collective bargaining in this country.

“Free riders” like Janus rob unions of necessary funds that make them the effective pro-worker advocates they are today.

But just as importantly, the law change has reduced the availability of middle-class jobs all across the country. Families are finding it more difficult to make ends meet.

Why is that? Because strong collective bargaining rights leads to higher pay.

Union Rights

For more than 40 years, federal law has provided public employees the right to join together in a union as a way to have a voice on the job with respect to how they are paid, the benefits they receive, and general conditions of employment such as the procedures for taking time off from work.

If the high court overturns decades of legal precedent by disallowing the collection of “fair share” fees, it will be much more difficult for public employees to have a voice and for labor unions to have the financial resources to protect public employees and safeguard their negotiated wages, benefits and working conditions.

Though the Supreme Court justices will ultimately have the final say in the Janus case, the Teamsters and working people across the country can be proactive by speaking about the benefits of a union, increasing membership and remaining unified.

That way, over-compensated corporate executives who want total freedom to rewrite work rules to lower wages and eliminate benefits will realize that workers’ collective voices cannot be silenced.