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Janus, the new Yohn and Friedrichs

Labor's blind support of Democratic Senators will be the final blow to the union movement

Kris LaGrange's picture
Mar 22, 2017

A case is making its way through the courts in Illinois and has only one more hurdle before it could potentially upend the way that public sector unions operate.  The case Janus v. AFSCME, is focused on whether a union can charge fair share fees to public employees who are not a part of the union. Sounds familiar, it’s Friedrichs all over again.

On Tuesday, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that fair share fees are in fact legal and not a violation of the employees First Amendment rights. This upheld a lower court decision and was in line with a 1977 Supreme Court decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that allowed unions to collect these fees. Fair share fees are paid by employees of a union shop that do not want to be a member of the union, but are still covered under the workplaces collective bargaining agreement (CBA).  The fees are compensation for the work that the union will have to do on the behalf of the employee, like bargain for their contract. 

While this decision is a victory for Association of Federal, State County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), it is only a temporary one.  Plaintiff Mark Janus has always wanted to bring this case to the Supreme Court.  This case, which is very similar to last years Friedrichs case and to Yohn v. California Techers Association, which is currently making its way to the Supreme Court through the Ninth District Courts, would make it illegal for public sector unions to collect fair share fees.  This would make all states Right to Work (for Less) for their public employees.  It also legally permits public employees to freeload off of their co-workers.  The union would still be required to bargain for them and defend them, but there would be no requirement to pay for these services.  Essentially, more selfish members would stop paying dues, but the union would have to do the same amount of work, just with a lot less money.

Both case are supported by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund.  Since Yohn and Janus are arguing the same point and are represented by the same lawyers, the likelihood is that they will be merged together into one case.  As you would expect, the lawyers are being funded by the most anti-union business people, including the Koch Brothers, the Walton Family (of Walmart) and the Coors’ family.  Trump has said that he “likes Right to Work.”

Last year, organized labor was spared by God almighty because Justice Antonin Scalia died. That court was split 4-4. This week the deciding vote on the court, Neil Gorsuch, is facing a Senate hearing before a confirmation vote. Democrats have the ability to block Gorsuch’s nomination, but have so far sounded unwilling.  For union members, this will be life or death, so this is the time to call your Senators and demand that they vote against Gorsuch and protect our unions. Union leadership should take note that their blind support for Democratic Senators may be the final blow. In the meantime call your Senator now while you still can.

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