Months after the Supreme Court’s June 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision, public-sector unions are not teetering on the brink of collapse, as their detractors may have hoped. The consensus is that good preparation softened the initial blow. “Anyone writing our obituary is going to be sorely disappointed,” Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), tells In These Times. “We don’t believe we are going to get hurt nearly as badly as people thought by Janus.” U.S. labor law requires unions to represent everyone in a bargaining unit whether or not they opt to be official, dues-paying union members.
In June, the Supreme Court issued its long-awaited ruling in Janus v. AFSCME—and it was just as bad as everyone feared. In a 5-to-4 decision, the court found that public-sector unions violated the First Amendment by collecting so-called fair-share fees from workers who aren’t union members but benefit from collective bargaining regardless. A report by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute estimated that the resulting “free-rider” problem could eventually lead to the loss of 726,000 public-sector union members nationwide. This diminished strength could result, in turn, in a 3.6 percent decline in public-sector wages.
Labor unions have been on the decline in the United States for over fifty years, which has caused a decline in wages, working environments and overall social conditions. In other countries, a strong alliance between labor unions and social movements have brought improvements. We discuss two major mistakes that labor made in the United States that caused its decline, the recent Supreme Court decision on Janus and what workers must do now to improve their situation. We also discuss recent news and cut through the corporate media fog on major issues.
The courts have always been an instrument of plutocratic power. But the war against American workers has intensified in Trump’s America. With its recent rulings, Harris v. Quinn (2014) and Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (2018), the Supreme Court has set American workers’ rights back decades. Through these cases, the court is hammering the final nails in the coffin of organized labor, threatening what little remains of unionization in America. While just 11 percent of Americans are members of a union – most of which are in the public sector – the Janus case threatens to destroy what little remains of the economic foundation of state and local unions.
The Supreme Court has entered the final phase in its deliberation of Janus vs AFSCME and is expected to announce its decision this June. If the decision is made against public sector unions, as is expected, it will be one more nail in the coffin of collective bargaining and protection of worker's rights. Union leaders and workers are taking this assault seriously. They recently held a national day of action, #UnrigTheSystem. Unions are educating their workers about the case to overcome billionaire-funded propaganda being aired in support of it. And in West Virginia, teachers and other public school employees are now in the eighth day of a wildcat strike for better pay and health benefits. Oklahoma teachers are planning to go on strike too.