Union workers rally ahead of major Supreme Court case

Unionized workers and their allies held rallies across the country Saturday to support unions in advance of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could significantly weaken the power of organized labor. Workers are attending rallies as part of a “working people’s day of action.”

There’s a rally in Foley Square in New York City, a street party in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a Columbus, Ohio party on the statehouse steps, and a gathering at Clayborn Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. Clayborn Temple has historical significance. It’s the place where striking sanitation workers, who had the support of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., began their march to City Hall in 1968 and where they gathered during another march when police attacked them with tear gas.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Mark Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31 (AFSCME) case. Non-union public school teachers in California brought the case.

Mark Janus, a child support specialist who chose not to join the union, said “fair-share” fees levied on non-members, amounting to 78 percent of full union dues, are a violation of his First Amendment rights. A Supreme Court decision in his favor, which is expected, would be a huge setback for public sector unions, which depend on these funds.

A decision in Janus’ favor would also give workers far less incentive to join unions, in essence   expanding “right-to-work” laws from the current 28 states to the entire country.

In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld fair share fees by arguing that since all workers benefit from the representation of a union, represented workers should pay for those benefits. But these workers don’t have to pay full union dues, because they aren’t paying for the union’s political work.

AFSCME argues that “the Republic’s first 150 years are replete with government curtailments of public employees’ free-speech rights, including on issues of public concern” and that most of the collective-bargaining, which is what fair-share fees cover, isn’t political but focused on working conditions and grievance procedures.

Unions are preparing for this possible setback by doing more aggressive internal organizing, hoping to drum up new membership, and also hope that local governments could come up with new ways to facilitate fee collection, labor experts told ThinkProgress in January.

The workers’ rights organization Jobs With Justice, which organized the protests, referred to the historic sanitation workers strike supported by King in explaining the reason behind rallies:

Fifty years later, our struggle continues. For far too long, a handful of corporate CEOs, extremists and corrupt politicians have rigged the rules in their favor: making us work harder for less, taking away our health care, stripping away our voting rights, defunding our schools and polluting our air and water. And now the same forces are behind Janus v. AFSCME Council 31.

People tweeted out photos and videos of rallies with the hashtag #UnrigTheSystem.

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress on February 24, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.