The U.S. Supreme Court, as expected, last week decided to hear a case in the next few months that would threaten the ability of unions to collect “fair share” fees from non-member public sector workers for the services they provide them.
The case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, deals with an Illinois state government employee who doesn’t want to pay “fair share” fees covering contract bargaining and representation activities.
The case is expected to touch on many of the same issues raised in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. In that case, the Supreme Court was largely expected to side with plaintiffs last year but ultimately deadlocked after the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia left it with only eight members. Public employees will find it much more difficult to negotiate a fair return on their contracts if the resources of their democratically-elected unions are diminished. A decision in the case will be handed down no later than June 2018.
“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.”
Teamsters locals that represent public employees are being strongly encouraged 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.
Sticking up for union jobs is essential because they pave the way to a middle-class lifestyle. The median union worker makes more than $200 more a week than non-union workers. That's why the Teamsters stressed the need for more union jobs in its “Let's Get America Working” campaign that debuted in 2015. Workers earning more don’t just help their families; they help the economy at large as well because they spend more.
Unions of working people can’t control the courts. Justices will ultimately have the final say. But the Teamsters and working people across the country can be proactive by increasing union membership and remaining unified. That way, the wealthiest in America and over-compensated corporate executives who want total freedom to rewrite work rules to lower wages and eliminate benefits, will realize that our collective voices cannot be silenced.