Union leaders blast Janus case as effort to rig economy against workers
Once again Right-to-Work-for Less will go to the Supreme Court, this time with anti-labor Judge Gorsuch filling the then-vacant seat that had been held by Judge Scalia until his death. The strong attack on workers could pass in a 5 to 4 decision. AP

WASHINGTON—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 U.S. Supreme Court decided Sept. 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 about 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 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 and their cat’s paw 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 that one right-wing think tanker told supporters in a letter 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,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders, Teachers President Randi Weingarten, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia and Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry in the joint section of their statement. They also issued individual statements along the same lines.

“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,” the four said, 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 that Rauner, a right-wing Republican who has waged war on 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, 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,” he stated, overlooking 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 campaign has lasted for decades, Shelton 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.

“The billionaires and corporate special interests funding this case view unions as a threat to their power, so they are trying to get the U.S. Supreme Court to rig the system even more in favor of those already at the top,” said AFSCME Council 31, which is defending workers in the case. “This case started right here in Illinois” with Rauner’s attack. Rauner has tried to destroy AFSCME legislatively as well.

“The forces behind this case know that by joining together in strong unions, working people have the voice they need to level the economic and political playing field,” said Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch. “Billionaires like Bruce Rauner are trying to rig the rules to take more power and influence for themselves.”

Council 31 also posted a Q&A about the case, available on www.afscme31.org.

“By outlawing Fair Share fees, employees who benefit from gains the union makes will not have to pay anything toward the cost of union representation. The wealthy elite behind this case want to drain unions of resources so working people will not have a powerful voice…If the billionaires and corporate CEOs behind this case get their way, they will take away the freedom of working people to come together in a strong union and build power to fight for a better future for ourselves, our families, our communities and our country,” the Q&A concluded.

But at least one union leader, SEIU’s Henry, vowed continued resistance even if there’s a 5-4 defeat at the High Court, now that Gorsuch sits in Scalia’s chair.

“The anti-worker extremists behind this case want to divide working people, make it harder to pool our resources, and limit our collective power. But SEIU members won’t let any court case stand in our way of sticking together for good jobs and strong communities,” she said.



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.