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.”
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.
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