Bill Knight column for Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, 6-19, 20 or 21
The case, “Janus v. AFSCME,” targets public-sector unions like a similar suit, “Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association,” backed by the National Right To Work Foundation last year, when it ended at the Supreme Court in a 4-4 tie following the death of the ninth judge, Justice Antonin Scalia.
In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago considered the case. A three-judge panel of Reagan appointee Richard Posner, George W. Bush appointee Diane Sykes, and Obama appointee David Hamilton heard oral arguments and affirmed a lower court decision dismissing it.
Now with Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch on the bench, the high court could rule against organized labor, agreeing with Illinois state employees Mark Janus and others that “fair-share” fees infringe on his free-speech rights since he disagrees with some activities of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
In reality, of course, Janus and anyone else represented by unions are free to oppose their labor’s political positions. Labor internally doesn’t always agree. For example, after the board of the Illinois AFL-CIO endorsed billionaire J.B. Pritzker in the race for governor on June 6 (nine months before the primary), it angered three key unions and some rank-and-file unionists as well as other Democratic candidates.
Led by the building trades but resisted by AFSCME, the Teachers, and the Service Employees International Union, the endorsement reportedly considered Pritzker’s pledge to self-fund his campaign, freeing Democratic Party resources to invest in other races.
State Seb. Daniel Biss, one of five other Democratic candidates running to oppose GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2018, said Illinois’ working families “deserve better than being told they have to support a billionaire whose family fortune was enriched by anti-union behavior.”
Along with Biss, Democrats campaigning to face Rauner are Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar, Southern Illinois school superintendent Bob Daiber, State Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood, and Chicago businessman Chris Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy’s son.
Comparing the unusual early endorsement to some international unions’ support of Hillary Clinton long before she competed against Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in most primaries last year, Kennedy differentiated between union members and union leadership in an interview on Chicago radio, noting that members didn’t vote with their leaders last November.
Of course, union leaders are freely elected by their members, who also can vote whether or not to ratify contracts, etc. Further, an argument could be made that Janus and other prospective “free riders” (who want something for nothing) are “prevented” from working for lower pay. (However, they can always refund the wages and benefits unions achieve on their behalf.)
For decades, the law has been based on a previous Supreme Court decision, 1977’s “Abood v. Detroit Board of Education,” which held that workers in union-represented bargaining units are not required to be union members as a condition of employment (a “union shop”), but they must still pay “agency fees” or “fair-share fees” to contribute to the costs of representation – except for political activities.
AFSCME President Lee Saunders said that the Janus suit is another attempt to impede unions’ power “to negotiate a fair return on our work, provide for our families, and lift up the concerns of all working families.”
Harvard Law School professor Benjamin Sachs agreed, telling the Associated Press, “This is an aggressive litigation campaign aimed at undermining unions' ability to operate by forcing them to represent people for free.”
The Court could consider the case this fall.
[PICTURED: Cartoon from the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE).]