Now that SCOTUS has finally dropped the Janus decision, more litigation is underway.
The National Right to Work Foundation asked the Supreme Court to hear a case that could financially weaken unions by allowing workers to quit them at a faster pace.
In a petition sent last Thursday, the group asked the high court to weigh in on the question of “window periods” — specified dates when workers can opt out of paying union dues. Two Michigan grocers asked their union, United Food & Commercial Workers, to stop automatically deducting dues from their paychecks but did not do so during a specified 15-day window or send in the required certified mail. The plaintiffs argue such restrictions are a violation of federal labor law.
The Sixth Circuit dismissed the case in February, saying the plaintiffs had failed to prove the union acted in “bad faith” and was simply holding itself to the contract signed by their members.
The petition comes on the heel of the Supreme Court’s decision last week in Janus v. AFSCME, which says public sector workers are not obligated to pay non-member fees to a union. Critics warn the decision creates a “free rider” problem, in which workers will leave their union so they can receive the benefits of collective bargaining without having to pay any fees.
Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME has left local and state teachers’ unions mobilizing to make sure they are complying with the law.
Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, said the union has sent memos to the school districts that employ agency-fee-paying teachers, letting them know to stop deducting the money from teacher paychecks. Such fees were struck down in the high court decision.
“If there are any members who have their fair-share fees deducted from their paychecks, that needs to stop right now,” Specht said. “We sent [employers] communication today so that they were aware of it.”
With the ruling on Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority said that requiring public employees to pay into a union violates their First Amendment rights because it essentially forces them to subsidize unions’ political speech.
Education Minnesota is affiliated with both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which have both sent compliance guidance to local unions on how to “operate in good faith based upon this decision,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a call with reporters.
Teachers unions are anticipating that agency-fee payers will disappear from their rolls and budgets. NEA, which represents 3 million workers, said Wednesday that fee payers represent 3 percent of its operating budget; AFT said 60,000 to 80,000 of its 1.75 million members are fee payers.
Education Minnesota represents 95,000 workers, 5,000 of whom are agency fee payers.
“There will no longer be fair-share fees. Those people are essentially gone; they’re done,” Specht said.
In light of the ruling, unions will have to ask workers if they consent to paying dues before any money is deducted.
AFT Pennsylvania President Ted Kirsch said that roughly a third of members there have signed legally binding cards saying, “I’m sticking with the union.”
“It’s hard to predict, but my feeling is that our members are smart. They know this an attack on their pension, their salaries, their working conditions,” he said.
Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery told POLITICO the union he leads has commitment cards from more than 90 percent of its workers.
“It’s a dark day for the history of unions and working people in America. But I feel very confident. We were ready for today,” he said.
Unions will now grapple with the possibility of losing full-fledged members to the appeal of representation without paying a dime.
“It’s like showing up for the potluck and not having a dish to share. They can load up for free,” Specht said.
“That’s a burden on unions, but we’ll figure it out,” Montgomery said.
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.”