Supreme Court Rules 5-4 in Favor of Janus. What Are the Implications for Unions?

June 27, 2018 • Krista Kaput

Today the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Mark Janus, a child support specialist for the state of Illinois. Janus sued his union, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), arguing that he should not have to pay mandatory dues—or “fair share” fees—which unions charge to workers who choose not to join the union but are still represented by them in collective bargaining. Janus claimed that being forced to pay these dues, which are used to fund contract negotiations and similar union activities, violated his First Amendment rights. Currently, public employees pay such fees in 22 states, including Minnesota, and D.C.

This post will discuss the Janus case, and how unions—both state and national—have prepared for the ruling.

What is the Janus Case?

As mentioned above, Janus claimed that requiring non-union members to pay “fair share” fees infringed on his and other workers’ First Amendment rights. He argued that even if unions bargained on behalf of the workers, the bargaining of benefits and salaries were inherently political speech, and that unions were forcing the workers to subsidize political speech they may not agree with.

Unions, on the other hand, asserted that their collective bargaining is apolitical and that the “fair share” fees do not support their political activity, which they claim are funded by voluntary contributions. Collectively, labor unions contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to campaigns each election, and have historically largely supported Democrats.

The legal precedent for “fair share” fees comes from a 1977 case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. In Abood, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against a group of Detroit public school teachers who argued they should not be required to pay “fair share” fees to a union they did not belong to. However, in that case the Supreme Court decided that collecting these fees from public employees to cover the costs of collective bargaining does not violate First Amendment rights.

In recent years, however, this earlier ruling has been challenged. The Supreme Court heard arguments against “fair share” fees in 2016’s Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, but the untimely death of Justice Antonin Scalia left the court in a 4-4 deadlock. Now, with the Janus ruling, the 1977 precedent has been reversed.

How Has Education Minnesota Been Preparing for the Janus Verdict?

Education Minnesota, the state’s teacher’s union, has over 90,000 members and is an affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). According to Education Minnesota, only 5 percent of its 94,638 members opt to pay “fair share” fees. The rest are full members.

In anticipation of a 20-40 percent drop in membership, Education Minnesota started a “Power of We” campaign in September 2017, which sought to educate teachers on the possible effects of Janus. The union’s website reads, “It is no longer a matter of if Minnesota becomes a right-to-work state, but when. The ‘Power of We’ drive will show districts, our students and our communities and each other that we are committed to working together to improve public education.”

According to the union’s president, Denise Specht, more than 1,200 “fair share” fee payers have become full members since the “Power of We” campaign. She also asserts that most of those teachers did not realize they weren’t full members.

The change in membership, however, could also be attributed to the changes in Education Minnesota’s 2017-18 Membership Renewal Form. By signing the form, teachers authorize their employers to deduct their wages by an amount “equal to the regular monthly dues uniformly applicable to members of Education Minnesota or monthly service fee” indefinitely, unless the teacher submits a written notice to both their employer and local union during a “seven-day period that begins September 24 and ends on September 30.”

In addition to the auto-enrollment shift, Education Minnesota plans to raise annual dues. According to their Renewal form, “dues include $25 per year for the Education Minnesota PAC. The PAC uses these contributions to fund political action efforts to strengthen the collective voice of educators in public policy-making.” In 2016, Education Minnesota’s PAC was the third largest in Minnesota, with almost three million dollars disbursed. A drop in membership could severely weaken their political influence in the state.

What About Other Public Unions in Minnesota?

Minnesota has traditionally been a strong organization labor state. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, 15.2 percent of Minnesota workers, or about 411,000, belonged to a union, as compared to the national average of 10.7 percent. Additionally, 54% of public sector employees are in a union and public sector unions account for at least a third of Minnesota’s overall union representation. As previously mentioned, Education Minnesota has over 80,000 members, while the state’s AFSCME chapter has 56,000 members and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees has 14,500 members. Therefore, it’s safe to argue that the Janus ruling will have substantial impact beyond Education Minnesota.

Jennifer Munt, a spokesperson for AFSCME’s Minnesota Chapter, admitted they will see a decrease in membership as a result of the Janus ruling. With that said, Munt contends, “unions will always be the most effective way for workers to pool their resources to fight for their families and communities. The forces behind this case know that. That’s why they rigged up this attack.”

Similarly, Bernie Hesse, an organizer with the United Food and Commercial Workers chapter, which represents over 10,000 private-sector workers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, said “a ruling in favor of Janus means that some public-sector unions could lose as much as 40 percent of their membership.”

How Has The National Teachers Union Prepared for the Verdict?

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, the NEA, the largest teachers union in the country, started to proactively prepare for an unfavorable ruling by reducing their budget by 50 million dollars, or 13 percent, from the year prior. Furthermore, NEA’s budget committee forecasts a two-year loss of 307,000 members out of over three million active education employee and retirees. Importantly, all of the union affiliates that had significant growth in the past year were states with the “fair share” fees.

In addition to the proposed budget cuts, which will not take effect until September 2018, the NEA has started to reduce staff through buyouts, early retirements, and attrition.

Education Evolving will continue to follow and report on the relevant topics regarding the Janus decision.

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