Janus backers, foes rally on the Supreme Court steps

  • February 26, 2018

Janus backers, foes rally on the Supreme Court steps

The two sides in the  high-profile Supreme Court case Janus vs. AFSCME,  vital to teachers unions rallied in front of the court ahead of oral arguments scheduled for Monday, according to a report from POLITICO.

“What’s disgusting? Union busting!” a crowd of teachers union backers chanted, holding signs that read “Unrig the system” and painting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Koch brothers as conservative billionaires intent on harming working people.

Meanwhile, Rebecca Friedrichs, a former California teacher who in an earlier case challenged unions’ power to collect fees from non-members, also took to the steps to say that she is “thrilled” the court will again consider the fee question.

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a case that challenges the money that public unions such as teachers unions collect from non-members to cover their share of collective bargaining costs. With Justice Neil Gorsuch now on the court, the justices are expected to weigh in favor of the plaintiffs.

The crowd outside on Monday appeared to include more labor advocates than it did people backing plaintiff Mark Janus, an Illinois state worker who declined to join AFSCME. Janus argues in his lawsuit that the payments he’s compelled to pay the union violate his First Amendment rights.

“What’s outrageous? Janus cases!” union members chanted, in between blasting upbeat songs like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” which at times drowned out the crowd backing Janus.

Bonnee Breese Bentum, an English teacher who’s a member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said, “We must stay united.”

“Everyone is part of this,” she said. “This case could change the landscape of America.”

If the justices rule in favor of Janus, as expected, the ruling could potentially hit union membership rosters, drain their coffers and dampen political activity.

Seema Nanda, executive vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and a former Labor Department official during the Obama administration, spoke from a small stage.

“Standing in the way of strong unions doesn’t create an America as good as its ideals,” she said.

The Supreme Court took up the same question in a case brought by Friedrichs in 2016. The court deadlocked 4-4 following the death of Antonin Scalia.

“When Scalia first died, I was devastated,” Friedrichs said. “But when Mark’s case came to us, I was thrilled. We had President Trump appoint Justice Gorsuch, who is fair. We didn’t have to wait another five years.”

Friedrichs said the case could be a win for workers who disagree with union political activities.

“I’m for school choice,” she said. “The way they attack Betsy DeVos … I think she’s done wonderful things for our children. They’re doing that with teachers’ money.”

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