Defiant unions vow to organize even more after Janus ruling
Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president, said the Supreme Court "has conceded to the dark web of corporations and wealthy donors who wish to take away the freedoms of working people." | AP

Defiant union members and leaders vowed to fight back against the corporate class behind the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, by organizing even more, both among state and local workers who are already unionists and among non-unionists in those fields, too.

And they’ll have to: In the 5-4 ruling in Janus vs AFSCME District Council 31, the court’s five-man GOP-named majority ruled every single state and local government worker nationwide can be a “free rider,” able to use union services without paying one red cent for them.

Justice Samuel Alito said forcing those workers to pay anything – even “agency fees” by non-members – violates their 1st Amendment free speech rights.

Janus is expected to cost unions and their allies millions of dollars in “fair share” fees from non-members, now represented by unions, who must pay for bargaining and contract enforcement, but no more – and from tens of thousands of members who will drop out.

Calculations by the University of Illinois labor studies institute put that number at 726,000 nationwide. Union leaders on a press conference call predicted their organizations would take an immediate, but small, hit, in membership. They added they’re busy re-signing current members and reaching out to prospective ones to convince them to join the union.

Unlimited free ridership is also expected to cost individual union members $1,700 each – or more – in wages over time, that study says.

The right wing greeted the ruling with glee. GOP President Donald Trump, for example, tweeted it would financially harm the Democratic Party. And the ideological GOP rightists who control the House Education and the Workforce Committee claimed it gives “freedom” to workers.

Unions responded by blasting the corporate class, which they said used Janus to rob workers not just of their rights, but of their power to oppose the corporate agenda and to preserve a middle-class standard of living. The union leaders also renewed their organizing vows.

The court majority “abandons decades of common-sense precedent. In this case, a bare majority of the court, over the vigorous dissent of four justices, has conceded to the dark web of corporations and wealthy donors who wish to take away the freedoms of working people,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

And one union leader on the press conference call with the Teachers, the Service Employees, AFSCME and the National Education Association said pro-worker lawmakers would introduce legislation this week to make organizing public workers easier. There were no details, however.

“It’s perfectly clear working people can’t get a fair hearing before the corporate-controlled Supreme Court,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders told the press conference. “We are recommitted to mobilizing and organizing. This was about corporate CEOs and wealthy special interests rigging the economy.”

The decision follows other Supreme Court rulings that hurt working people, Saunders said. They include recent rulings forcing workers into arbitration despite labor law coverage, Muslims slammed by Trump’s travel ban and LGBTQ people who can now suffer discrimination by business owners.

“This definitely has nothing to do with the fair-share fee payers,” commented Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, the National Education Association president. Her 3-million-member union, the nation’s largest, includes her home state of Utah – a right to work state where “fee payers” can already free ride on the NEA’s, and other unions’ dime.

The right-wingers in back of Janus “attack unions for one reason: We’ve always been the pathway to the middle class, and that’s what they hope to put an end to,” Eskelsen-Garcia said. Their plan “would particularly hurt women and communities of color,” she noted. Three-fourths of teachers are women and a larger share of African-Americans are union members than in the general population.

“This is yet another example of how billionaires rig the system against working people, white, black and brown,” said Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry, whose 2.2-million-member union includes tens of thousands of public hospital workers, among others.

She also put Janus in a long U.S. tradition of exploiting minorities. Another group, home health care workers, have been denied workers’ rights starting in the days of slavery, Henry noted.

“We will not let these extreme actions and a court case stand in our way,” Henry vowed.

Don’t. Count. Us. Out!” Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten declared (her emphasis). She denounced the “right wing’s thirst for power and its extremism, which trump” – her word – “communities. Our members are sticking with us and we are sticking with the community. We will continue fighting, organizing, campaigning, showing up – and voting. We’re doubling down.”

At least two groups of unionists took to the streets immediately after the court’s edict. National Nurses United members held press conferences in Chicago and California to discuss their union’s next moves. And The Stand, the online paper for the Washington State Labor Council, reported unionists marching in the streets of Seattle, Everett, Tacoma, Spokane and Vancouver.

“The Supreme Court decision today to roll back decades of union and worker rights poses a significant threat to patient safety as well as worker and community health and economic standards,” NNU said.

Other unions had similar reactions and vows to keep fighting. Excerpts included:

TEAMSTERS: “By backing the plaintiffs in “Janus v. AFSCME,” the high court’s decision is an attempt to limit the collective voices of not only government workers, but those in the private sector as well,” union President Jim Hoffa warned.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling is at a time when so many Americans are struggling just to make ends meet. The Teamsters and our allies in the labor movement will redouble our efforts to ensure that working men and women have a voice on the job through strong unions.”

FIREFIGHTERS PRESIDENT HAROLD SCHAITBERGER: “We are ready to take the best punch and deliver some blows ourselves to those that want to see fire fighters and their unions weakened.”

“Every attack can be turned into an opportunity, and we are determined not to let this decision hold us back. The IAFF has operated successfully under Janus-like rules in right-to-work and non-collective bargaining states for decades. We have proven you can have strong affiliates that deliver better pay, health care, retirement security, health and safety provisions and a voice in keeping their communities safe in these tough environments. We represent more than 85 percent of all professional fire fighters and paramedics in the U.S. because we consistently demonstrate our value, through our strong affiliates, that being union fire fighters provides a significantly better standard of living and safer working environment than those who are not union.

“That difference will become even more stark, and we are working to represent that small percentage of fire fighters who aren’t in our union so that we can raise their standard of living and increase their ability to have a strong voice in public safety. This case was intended as a political push to eliminate the power of people who work to support their families and the power of their unions. But instead, the Janus case is activating an army of union leaders to better engage their members.”

GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES PRESIDENT J. DAVID COX: “On behalf of the wealthiest 1 percent and special interest groups, the Supreme Court has attempted to strike the death knell for public-sector unions, but the workers themselves will ultimately decide their own fate. Workers know the importance of unions in the workplace and they will survive. We need to come together as workers and use this as our moment to stand up, join the union, and organize like never before. Every worker can use their voice to fight for better working conditions and fair representation by joining the union.”

“If you’re covered by the union contract but you don’t belong to the union, it’s time to join your union and pay for the benefits you receive – because those benefits could vanish tomorrow unless workers take a stand and fight for their rights at the worksite.”

OFFICE AND PROFESSIONAL EMPLOYEES PRESIDENT RICHARD LANIGAN: “Today’s Supreme Court decision…is just another attempt by billionaires and wealthy corporate interests to curb the freedoms of working people and strip them of their right to a strong voice in the workplace Despite today’s ruling, working people and their unions won’t be silenced…In states throughout the nation, workers are organizing and taking collective action like we’ve never seen before, and no Supreme Court decision is going to stop that momentum.”

“Working people and their unions won’t be slowed by this misguided and politically biased ruling. Instead, our fight continues to join together and unite for our freedoms to achieve a fair and equitable workplace and better future for all Americans.”

NATIONAL CONSUMERS LEAGUE: Janus vs AFSCME is the unfortunate capstone of a decades-long assault on working Americans who choose to collectively stand up to improve their workplaces and their communities and is the result of a right-leaning court that favors business interests over workers,” Executive Director Sally Greenberg said.

“The potential harm caused by this decision is great and will not only be felt by union members. Millions of individual consumers who rely on government services will feel the consequences of this decision as public servants choose to leave in search of better opportunities and as the ones who remain face greater workplace insecurity.”

“The Supreme Court today sided against working families. We call upon Congress to step in to correct this injustice. Powerful lobbyists may have won today, but in the end working Americans understand the importance of joining together to create better working conditions. While this decision is disappointing, we will continue to fight alongside our labor allies for a fair and just workplace and marketplace.”

LABORERS PRESIDENT TERRY O’SULLIVAN: The unionproudly represents tens of thousands of dedicated, hard-working public employees who are undaunted by the Janus decision. The court… sided with anti-worker interests whose aim is to weaken unions by seeking to force unions and those who support us to bear the cost of representing free-riders. While the plaintiff’s backers claim this case is about ‘freedom of speech,’ nothing could be further from the truth. The Janus case represents an all-out attack on public sector unions meant to diminish the bargaining power of millions of public sector workers and divide us in the workplace.” Laborers members “will continue to stand together and fight together to protect the wages, benefits, and working conditions that come with a union card.”

COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS PRESIDENT CHRIS SHELTON: This decision continues a long campaign by corporate interests and right-wing groups to restrict our ability to stand together. While these special interest groups might be celebrating their victory against workers’ freedom to join together in strong unions to speak up for themselves, their families, and their communities, union members will be using this as a rallying cry to fight back harder than ever before.”

“The right-wing attack on union fair share fees is all about making it more difficult for working people to defend themselves when corporations abuse their power. Today’s decision is an attempt to further concentrate power in the hands of the wealthy few by taking away resources from working people who are represented by unions.”

“But there’s something happening here in America…Our public worker membership is growing, even in states like Texas that prohibit collective bargaining for public employees. We’ve stood in solidarity with teachers and other public employees in many different states walking out and standing up to special interests – and winning.”

“Corporate special interest groups have been working for decades to strip away workers’ freedom to join together and negotiate for fair wages and benefits, and to improve our workplaces. They want to turn back the clock on achievements like Social Security, civil rights, wage and hour and safety laws, Medicare, and public education that unions fight every day to preserve.”

“Union members will show them that nothing can stand in the way of working people standing together. We call on elected officials at the local, state and national level to stand with working people and make it easier for them to join together in unions.”

PRIDE AT WORK: After spending billions of dollars to steal a Supreme Court seat, corporate CEOs and billionaires got what they paid for today. The partisan majority on this Court has decided that the corporate interests that put them there have greater rights than the American people. The right to organize is a fundamental freedom that must not be abridged. This decision is a major setback for working people all across the nation, regardless of whether they are part of a union. Just as they authorized the Muslim Ban yesterday, this Supreme Court has proven that it will stop at nothing to divide and weaken us,” said Jerame Davis, executive director of the AFL-CIO’s constituency for LGBTQ workers.

PROFESSIONAL AND TECHNICAL ENGINEERS Secretary-Treasurer Paul Shearon called the majority-side justices “little better than political hacks.”

“Today’s Supreme Court decision was based on a bogus free speech argument. This politically moti-vated case brought by Mark Janus, paid for by corporate interests, was designed to undercut the bargain-ing power of those employed in local and state government. This wasn’t about free speech — this was about silencing workers’ voices. The Justices who supported this slap in the face to public employees and their families, reversing settled law, telegraphed that they are little better than political hacks.”

“In the short run, the Janus decision may hurt some unions financially, but in the long run it will serve to make unions and their members more militant and force a stronger culture of internal organizing. The recent statewide teacher strikes demonstrate that when public sector workers face limitations on their bargaining rights they take their case to the streets.”

FIGHT FOR 15 AND A UNION: “No billionaire, corporation, or court has ever stopped us from fighting for $15/hr and union rights – and it’s not about to happen today,” fast-food worker Shannon Jackson of Detroit e-mailed. “We’re going to keep organizing and fighting to make our workplaces, our communities, and our nation better. It’s how a handful of fast-food workers in New York grew into global movement and won raises for over 23 million people – and it’s how we’ll win today.”

WASHINGTON STATE LABOR FEDERATION: State Fed President Jeff Johnson and Secretary Treasurer Lynne Dodson said: “No court decision will stop us from fighting for good jobs, safe workplaces, affordable health care, and dignity at work for everyone. Today, we recommit not only to sustaining Washington’s labor movement, but to building a stronger one.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.