PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI)—Union leaders denounced the latest right-wing attempt to deprive workers and unions of money – via a Supreme Court case the justices have agreed to hear -- as “a blatant attack to rig the economy against workers,” as Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan put it.
Sullivan and other unionists commented after the justices decided September 27 to hear the case pitting dissident worker Mark Janus against his Illinois AFSCME Council. Janus and his backers scheme to deny unions and workers money by declaring all seven million state and local government workers nationwide “free riders.”
That means they wouldn’t have to pay one red cent for the basic services, contract coverage and protection from arbitrary discipline and favoritism by bosses, that unions provide.
The justices said they would hear the case, Janus v AFSCME Council 31 but didn’t set a date. It’s the second attempt by the radical right so-called National Right to Work Committee to use a dissident worker as their weapon against state requirements that government workers whom unions represent must pay “agency fees” for the basic services of contract bargaining and worker defense.
The first try, the Friedrichs case, failed on a 4-4 tie in the High Court after Associate Justice Antonin Scalia died. Republican appellate judge Neil Gorsuch has replaced him. In both cases, the right to work crowd argue that payment of the agency fees violates their free speech First Amendment rights.
But the union leaders quickly pointed out the cases’ real impact: They would cost unions millions of dollars, crippling their ability to fight for workers, union and non-union, and against the corporate and right-wing agenda.
“The Janus case is part of a coordinated attack on workers financed by anti-union, anti-worker billionaires and corporate interests whose aim is to destroy unions and make it impossible for working people to join together and protect hard-fought rights and protections,” O’Sullivan said.
“If the court rules against the unions, it would be overturning legal precedent that has protected workers for 40 years and siding with corporate interests who want to silence workers.” He called the case a “corporate-funded plot to rig the rules against workers.”
The unions with the most to lose from a hostile Supreme Court ruling – AFSCME, the Service Employees and both teachers unions – issued a joint statement emphasizing the same themes. And they pointed out one right-wing think tanker wrote supporters the case’s real aim was as part of its national campaign “to strike a mortal blow” and “defund and defang” unions.
The Janus case is “a blatantly political and well-funded plot to use the highest court in the land to further rig the economic rules against everyday working people. The billionaire CEOs and corporate interests behind this case, and the politicians who do their bidding, have teamed up to deliver yet another attack on working people by striking at the freedom to come together in strong unions,” the four union leaders said.
The four -- AFSCME President Lee Saunders, Teachers President Randi Weingarten, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia and Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry – added: “The people behind this case simply do not believe that working people deserve the same freedoms they have: To negotiate a fair return on their work,” in a swipe against multimillion-dollar corporate employment agreements.
“This case started with an overt political attempt by the billionaire governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, to attack public service workers through the courts,” they noted. Lower courts ruled Rauner, a right-wing Republican who has waged war on AFSCME Council 31 since the day he took office three years ago, could not sue, since he wasn’t personally hurt. So the right-to-work crowd dredged up a rank-and-file worker, Mark Janus, to take his place.
“This case is yet another example of corporate interests using their power and influence to launch a political attack on working people and rig the rules of the economy in their own favor,” said Saunders, whose union represents more state and local workers than any other.
“When working people are able to join strong unions, they have the strength in numbers they need to fight for the freedoms they deserve, like access to quality health care, retirement security and time off work to care for a loved one. The merits of the case, and 40 years of Supreme Court precedent and sound law, are on our side.
“We look forward to the Supreme Court honoring its earlier rulings,” Saunders stated, not mentioning the 4-4 tie and Gorsuch’s prior anti-worker rulings in lower courts.
Communications Workers President Chris Shelton, whose union represents 60,000 New Jersey public workers and another 11,000 or more in Texas, hit the same themes. He called the case part of “the campaign by corporate interests and right-wing groups to restrict the ability of working people to stand together.” That’s lasted for decades, he noted.
“The right-wing attack on fair share is all about weakening unions, with the hope of giving corporations even more power and accelerating the assault on achievements like Social Security, civil rights, wage and hour and safety laws, Medicare, and public education unions fight every day to preserve,” he stated.