"We know that AFSME, and public sector workers across the United States, will defend themselves and the services they provide against this political attack on workers' rights. We are with them in this fight, today, and in the coming days. Our work continues." — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (27 June 2018) — In a tight 5-4 decision, divided clearly along Republican and Democrat lines, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to undue 40 years of legal precedent and long-established labour relations practice. Overturning legislation that has been in place since 1977, workers who are not members of a union will not have to pay dues to the unions that represent them.
Decision overturns decades of labour relations practice
The face of the case has been Mark Janus, a public service worker in Illinois, who is a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (ASFCME) Council 31. He refused to join the union and disputed paying dues to it because he disagreed with the union's priorities and decisions. The lawsuit argued that forcing people to pay dues was against their First Amendment rights.
In February, the lawsuit, backed by Janus and other conservative groups, corporations and politicians, was argued at the Supreme Court. It is well known that the conservative interests brought forward the case as a way to, as Bruce Rauner, billionaire governor of Illinois said, strike a "mortal blow" to labour unions and to "defund and defang" the ability of unions to represent workers.
Consequences of diminished union representation
The problem with workers opting out of paying dues is that the union must still represent them. These "free riders" reap the benefits of bargaining and the grievance process but are not obliged not contribute to the union. The more people who opt out, the less work the union will be able to do on behalf of workers.
The Janus decision opens the door for employers to act with impunity against workers' interests, confident that the union's capacity to defend workers' rights has been weakened.
Not only will workplaces be less fair, research shows that as labour rights decline, income inequality rises. Society as a whole will be negatively affected by this decision.
The fight continues
As Lee Saunders, AFSCME President, said in a statement, "Unions will always be the most effective force and vehicle to propel working people into the middle class. Despite this unprecedented and nefarious political attack — designed to further rig the rules against working people — nothing changes the fact that America needs unions now more than ever."
"We are more resolved than ever to fight like hell to win for our members and the communities they care so much about. AFSCME members don’t do this work to get rich. They do it because it’s a calling — and for that service, they deserve respect. Workers deserve the same freedoms as the CEOs and billionaires who continue to rig the rules against everyone else. The American labor movement lives on, and we’re going to be there every day, fighting hard for all working people, our freedoms and for our country," said Saunders.
Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International (PSI) had this to say about the decision, “After reviewing the history of this case, it is clear that the new Janus decision is an effort to manipulate the rights of working people, prevent them from joining together for better working conditions and diminish their advocacy for quality public services. I know that, despite this decision, American public employees will continue the fight for their rights and will build strength through their unions despite the obstacles that the court has placed in their way. Public employees around the world stand with them.”
The Janus effect in Canada
In very recent history, we have seen several governments, at the federal and provincial levels, attempt to diminish the ability for workers to fight abuse, stand up for their rights and to bargain collectively to improve their lives.
This is in a country where the Supreme Court has decided, on a number of occasions, that freedom of association — the ability to belong to a union and bargain fairly — is a constitutionally protected right.
"If employers or governments think they can pull inspiration for anti-union legislation here in Canada, they're in for a big surprise," said Larry Brown, President of the National Union of Public and General Employees Union (NUPGE).
"Our members will continue building on the strength of our union, actively engaging with our membership, and the public, to demonstrate the value of unions," said Brown.
"Several of our campaigns — Labour Rights are Human Rights, All Together Now! and Unions Matter — are all part of our work to educate and build support for the labour movement," added Brown. "We weren't given workers' rights by generous employers or governments. We fought hard for them and we won't allow them to be trampled on."
"We know that AFSCME, and public sector workers across the United States, will defend themselves and the services they provide against this political attack on workers' rights. We are with them in this fight, today, and in the coming days. Our work continues," said Brown.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE