Nevada unions condemn Supreme Court’s “extreme decision”

union
In a press confrence, AFSCME local 4041, reacts to the Supreme Court ruling on Janus v. AFSCME. Photo: Jeniffer Solis

In Nevada, workers can already opt out of paying union dues and still reap the benefits of better wages and benefits and job security protections negotiated through collective bargaining. But Nevada’s “free rider” status didn’t stop labor organizations in the state from blasting the Supreme Court’s Janus decision as part of a deliberate attempt to destroy organized labor and make it even harder for working people to get by.

The Supreme Court Wednesday sided in a 5-4 decision with Mark Janus, a public employee in Illinois who sued his representative union over the requirement to pay a “fair share fee” for the services he received from his union.

Unions argue that the decision will drain essential resources from public sector unions and make it harder to negotiate fair contracts for their members. The ruling is also widely seen as an attack on labor’s ability to financially support political candidates.

“This movement to dismantle unions will not stop,” said Ruben Garcia, co-Director of the Workplace Law Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “That’s what this ruling is doing.”

“Even if people are satisfied with their union, if instead, unions have to get members to pay, the union will get less of the dues,” said Garcia. “Now everyone will have to opt in which will lower membership and weaken unions.”

The Supreme Court decision effectively turns 23 additional states and the District of Columbia into so-called “right-to-work” states which bar unions from requiring everyone in a collective bargaining unit to pay mandatory fees to the unions that bargain on their behalf.

In a joint statement, national leaders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) blasted the decision as “a blatant political attack to further rig our economy and democracy against everyday Americans in favor of the wealthy and the powerful.”

Ruben Murillo, the president of the Nevada State Education Association, which represents 28,000 teachers and support professionals in Nevada, said the supreme court ruling was not a surprise but that it was still “deeply disappointing.”

“Unions have always helped educate our students,” Murillo said. “The ruling makes it harder to fight for the things students need.”

About 13 percent of Nevada workers are union members, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Murillo said that while he believes the ruling is not going to impact members in Nevada the current attack on unions by “corporate lobbyists” requires unions to work together to navigate the impact the ruling will have on other states.

“Being a right-to-work state we have to fight for every union member,” Murillo said. “From our expertise as a right-to-work state we will be able to share what has been successful for us with other unions.”

The original Janus lawsuit was filed by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) but was thrown out after a lower court decided he didn’t have a legal standing in the case since he was not a union member. Janus later picked up the lawsuit with the help of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center, both conservative legal groups. The Supreme Court had previously upheld labor’s right to charge agency fees, in the landmark 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

Janus’s attorneys argued that public sector unions were an inherently political activity since the scale of unions and their collective bargaining influences governmental policies.

“It provides unions with extraordinary powers to compel the government to listen to it at the bargaining table, to not listen to other advocacy groups,” said National Right to Work Legal Defense attorney, William Messenger, during oral arguments.

“It’s immaterial why an individual does not wish to support union advocacy. The First Amendment prohibits the government from probing into individuals’ subjective belief,” Messenger said.

Garcia, co-Director of the Workplace Law Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, argued that the lawsuit  “was never about first amendment issues. Political actions are already off the table. That was decided years ago by the Supreme Court.” Adding that “Janus is absolutely funded by corporate lobbyists.”

In a press conference Wednesday, AFSCME Local 4041, which represents more than 17,000 state workers, condemned Sen. Dean Heller, who voted to confirm conservative Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch after joining the Senate Republican year-long refusal to allow Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to be considered. Gorsuch’s confirmation bolstered the Supreme Court’s pro-corporate tilt, a tendency expected to become even more entrenched with the announced resignation Wednesday of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

“These wealthy elites and the politicians they buy have been attacking our freedom to come together and make our communities better. This is just their most recent tactic,” said Harry Schiffman, AFSCME Local 4041 President. “So-called ‘right to work’ makes it a struggle to have our voices heard and this extreme decision forces tens of millions of regular working families to live under those brutally anti-worker rules.”

SEIU Nevada Local 1107, which represents more than 19,000 public and healthcare workers across the state also said the supreme court ruling was “a long-expected decision.”

“This decision makes it easier for anti-worker extremists to divide working people and further rig the economy. An attack on working people and their unions is an attack on our broader movement for justice,” wrote Sam Shaw, director of communications for SEIU Nevada Local 1107 in a statement. “Members are energized and ready to affect real change in the 2018 election cycle and beyond. It is time for elected leaders to stand beside working families and commit to creating good, union jobs for all Nevadans.”

Many local unions, like SEIU, fear that the reduction of member fees will squeeze a critical revenue stream and weaken their ability to elect leaders who will fight for their members interests in government. Some have already made moves to reach out and mobilize members.

Gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak, Sen. Aaron Ford, and congressional candidate Susie Lee, all Democrats, expressed their opposition to the supreme court ruling on social media.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said in a statement that the decision “will weaken the ability of working people to join together in unions to improve their workplaces and collectively bargain for the benefits they’ve earned.”

“Collective bargaining is a tide that lifts all boats,” added Rep. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, in a statement. “The positive effects of bargaining collectively in the workplace not only benefit union members, but also extend to non-union members who enjoy higher wages, affordable health insurance and help with a secure retirement as a result of union efforts. Today’s decision damages the ability of public sector workers to obtain these benefits for themselves and their families, despite their tireless commitment to serving our communities.”

While many unions were reeling from the Supreme Court ruling, the Culinary Workers Union reached a tentative agreement with the Las Vegas Stratosphere and are now in negotiation with the Westgate Resorts.

Labor unions have maintained much of their strength in Nevada despite the decline of economic and political power of unions nationwide and the state’s right-to-work status. The Culinary Union is one of the most powerful hospitality unions, with over 57,000 members, many of whom are women (55%) and Latino (56%).

“Right-to-work is not a death sentence. At least it doesn’t have to be,” said Bethany Khan, the director of communications for the Culinary Union.

This year, the Culinary Union negotiated new five-year contracts some of the highest wage increases ever, strong immigration protections, and protections for women. Khan said the union’s success is due to a willingness to stay “militant and disciplined” along with strong member engagement. Every member must be fought for to keep in the fold, a lesson public sector unions will have to adapt for.

“They have been very good at thriving in a situation that is now constitutionally imposed on all states,” said Garcia.

Jeniffer Solis
Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Remember this is all a hundred year long attack on the 16th amendment that allows the federal government to tax the robber barons. After it passed and the Rockefellers and Carnegies had a collective tantrum, it dawned on them that the majority of Americans were poor (the middle-class is a recent invention and cannot survive in a capitalist system without government protections) and were fine with the super rich being made to pay their fair share. So to get the peasants onto their side the robber barons lobbied heavily for taxes on lower incomes and after WWI the government was broke enough to risk the backlash.
    Now we’re seeing the tax burden fall more and more on the lower classes while government services to them are cut and the benefits of government spending accrue almost entirely to the richest people. Teachers start out at under 30k, prison guards are paid minimum wage and enlisted soldiers are seeing their benefits under attack while the owners of for profit private prisons and charter schools and defense contractors make millions.
    In turn, such businesses look at lobbying now as an investment with huge returns (i.e. the 2017 tax cut for donors and the super wealthy that put 2T on the national credit card).

    • The new robber barons are positioning themselves to protect their assets from the coming tsunami of baby boomer driven government spending, foisting the cost of the “me generation” onto the shoulders of the already tapped out gen x and millennials.

      Big picture, it looks the super wealthy, knowing that they can’t rely on the racial bigotry of the gop base to keep them in power much longer, not as the quality of life for 90% of the population stagnates and declines, have gone all out in trying to neuter the power of democratic government to restrict or police big business. So by the time the boomer hold on government is broken, the country is minority majority and republican policies are exposed as nothing more then welfare for the rich, American government will be too burdened by the debts of earlier unfunded tax cuts and too overwhelmed by the medical and social security costs of elderly boomers to force the new generation of robber barons to pay their fair share or in reality any share.

      • This will necessitate drastic cuts in public spending and a fundamental shift in the role government plays in the lives of regular Americans. Medicaid and Medicare heavily cut and restricted to bare bones coverage, the end of public education, all roads tolled, military and police forces melded together and privatized.

        Such a weak federal government would be corrupt and inefficient and hated by all and easily ignored by the now unaccountable billionaires free from any constrains the peasantry might want to put on their lives. A return to the feudalism of old. Democracy, after all, is a pain for oligarchs.

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