Billionaires lead attack on US unionists
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 5, 27 July 2018, p25
Teacher unionists in the United States have vowed that they will not be silenced, following a Supreme Court decision that puts the future of collective bargaining at risk.
Justices passed the so-called “Janus” decision five to four, meaning that public sector unions, including teacher unions, must now use their resources to represent and protect employees who are not members and who do not contribute to the union.
In the United States, public sector unions are required by law to represent all workers in their unit even if they are not members. Before this ruling, non-members had to pay a fair-share fee, less than full union dues, for the protections and benefits they received from the union.
The claimant in the case, which was partly bankrolled by the billionaire Koch brothers, is Mark Janus, a social worker who argued that his First Amendment liberties were violated because he had to pay an agency fee to the union even though he is not a member and might disagree with its political policies.
The Janus decision will affect millions of workers in the nearly half of the states that require payments from non-members to cover the cost of collective bargaining.
In the education sphere, fair-share fees help cover the cost of union representation and bargaining services that support high quality public schools and benefit employees by ensuring that their union can strongly advocate for them.
Post Janus, non-union employees or “free-riders” will still receive protections and services, but will not have to pay anything for these benefits.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said: “This is a dark day in US jurisprudence, a day when the thirst for power trampled the needs of communities and the people who serve them. The dissenting justices saw this case for what it really was - a warping and weaponising of the First Amendment, absent any evidence or reason, to hurt working people.”
Denise Specht, President of Education Minnesota, said: “Regardless of today’s Supreme Court decision, we must remain united and make it clear that no court decision can stop our union. Neither this ruling nor the right-wing groups that will weaponise it, will silence the voices of Minnesota’s professional educators.”
Lily Eskelsen García, President of the country’s largest union, the National Education Association, said: “A strong union and collective bargaining agreements are what help to ensure students receive the tools and resources they need to succeed in school and in life. We’ve seen it in the resources available to our students, and we have felt it in our paychecks.
“Many of our schools have faced serious funding cuts that are likely to grow even worse. Collective bargaining has been a critical tool to push back against these cuts and demand the resources our students deserve.”
And the impact of the decision could be felt well beyond the borders of the USA. Education International General Secretary David Edwards warned: “The Janus case is not just about the United States. Around the world unions use our collective voice to advocate for policies that benefit all working people. That includes education professionals collectively fighting for quality public education open to all.
“This is more than a court case, it’s about CEOs and billionaires who have spent their money and influence trying to destroy the collective power of unions. They want to drive down wages, defund public education and silence democratic voices. We will challenge them at every turn.”
President Trump, on the other hand, welcomed the decision, tweeting that it would mean a “big loss for the coffers of the Democrats”.