Wisconsin labor leaders warn New Yorkers to unite
A hard look at what a Janus ruling might do to you
By DEBORAH A. MILES
A major U.S. Supreme Court case will be heard in February, and its ruling may greatly affect all union members in the nation.
The Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) case could outlaw public-sector unions from requiring non-members in their bargaining unit to pay dues or fees.
The plaintiff, Mark Janus, is a child support specialist who works in Illinois and has challenged an Illinois law, which is similar to New York’s, requiring employees to pay “agency fees” to a union that represents their position, even if they chose not to join that union.
The Janus case came together after Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an executive order in 2015 directing the state to stop taking union dues from state workers who were not union members. He filed a lawsuit in federal court, asking it to affirm his decision was legal. He lost the case because he did not have to pay union dues or fees. But a federal judge later ruled that three state workers, led by Janus, did have standing, while the governor did not. That decision opened the door for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
If an anti-union ruling in Janus occurs, it could substantially reduce the revenues and influence of unions. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his January 2018 State of the State Address, indicated he would side with labor, as an anti-union Janus ruling would pose a threat to workers’ rights, noting a strong labor movement is the key to raising the quality of life for New York state residents.
PEF President Wayne Spence said union members must be educated as to what is at stake if Janus prevails, and how all workforces will be Balkanized.
“The initial idea of having more money in your paycheck by not paying union dues may be appealing, but members must realize the forfeits are far greater. Union dues pay for collective bargaining that, in turn, guarantees raises, affordable health benefits, job protection and legal advice. Your dues money gives us the power to protect your pension, address health and safety issues in workplaces, launch campaigns where short-staffing or mandatory overtime is an issue, and save vital services in communities,” Spence said.
“If everyone was forced to approach their employer independently for a raise or benefits, the fragmentation in the workforce would take the focus away from needed public services. We have seen and learned from our union brothers and sisters in other states, particularly those in Wisconsin, who have felt the devastating blow of anti-unionism.”
Birth and burial of unions
Nationally, no state has lost more of its labor-union identity than Wisconsin since 2011. The decline has put Wisconsin, the birthplace of public-employee unions, near the bottom third of states for unionized workforce. Southern and western states make up most of the lowest tier.
PEF members joined the boisterous protests that rocked the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison during the time when Gov. Scott Walker proposed a bill to alleviate the budget shortfall by taking away the ability of public-sector unions to bargain collectively. And now Wisconsin union members have seen firsthand the devastating effects of the loss of “fair share” in the public sector, as Walker and the Legislature passed Act 10, which removed the ability of unions to collect fees from non-members, the same people who benefited directly from the union’s negotiations on their behalf.
Now, in place of collective bargaining, which is fueled by dues-paying members, unions in Wisconsin must seek to influence management through informal talks, lobbying pressure on local boards and by running candidates.
It is not working very well.
Overtime for staff has increased by 75 percent due to short-staffing, and morale being rated as “very poor” in facilities such as the King Home for Veterans, once a desirable place to work in Wisconsin.
Since the passage of Act 10, the Lincoln Hills School for Boys has 67 of 313 positions unfilled.
Beginning in July 2011, AFSCME members began making a 4.7 percent contribution to their pension. After August 1, 2011, the pension multiplier changed from 2.0 percent to 1.6 percent for all future service earned after that date, and it also changed the normal retirement age from 60 to 64 for all members.
Rick Badger, Wisconsin executive director of AFSCME, has sent a message to PEF members.
“We have seen here in Wisconsin what happens when government attacks the rights of workers. Only by standing together with our co-workers do we have the power to ensure a safe workplace, a fair wage and a secure retirement.
“AFSCME was founded in Wisconsin in 1932 and there were no laws at that time granting union rights, As we see more and more legal protections struck from the books, it is critical we remember that the power of labor comes from the people, not the laws. Together we are strong.”
Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, added, “By crippling the fundamental freedom of every worker to join together, we must stick together and have each other’s back in the workplace. Attacks on collective bargaining lower wages for all of us, and erode the entire middle class.
“In Wisconsin, we know firsthand that anti-worker right-to-work laws and court cases such as Janus are part of a well-funded, billionaire-backed, political plot to further rig the rules of the economy against everyday working people. The only way we can achieve safe workplaces, economic justice and a fairer economy for all, is through unity and togetherness.
“We’ve learned in Wisconsin that the best way to beat back the attempts of corporate interests to weaken worker freedom is to stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, with our brothers and sisters from all sectors, industries and walks of life, as one, united labor movement fighting on behalf of all working people,” Bloomingdale said.
“Solidarity is the strength of the working class and together we will never be defeated.”
The future together
PEF, along with other state labor unions and the American Federation of Teachers, will contact members to personally explain the ramifications if the Supreme Court Justices side with Janus.
New York’s government unions also have begun lobbying the state Legislature to pass laws, which would make it more difficult for state employees to quit unions and stop paying dues.
“PEF was founded on protecting our professional members, and this union is committed to continue the practices that our founders gained for us,’ Spence said. “No one wants to lose their pension, vacation days or be made to work overtime. As our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin have told us, and what we have always believed, ‘We Are Stronger Together.’”