SCOTUS and Unions

The Supreme Court will soon issue a decision in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31. We’ll leave the dire predictions and hyperbole to the pundits. This memo is focused on the facts so that you and readers can fully understand the implications of this important case.


Let’s begin with the “who”:

  • The case is part of a multipronged attack, being spearheaded this time by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a front group funded by corporate billionaires, including the notorious Koch brothers.


  • After their original plaintiff, the deeply unpopular and fiercely anti-worker Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, was thrown off the case, they found Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee and member of AFSCME Council 31.

  • On paper, the plaintiff is one man in Illinois. But in reality, a dark web of corporations and wealthy donors who want to destroy unions and silence working people are behind this case.


It’s no secret what this case is all about. For decades, wealthy elites have empowered groups like the National Right to Work Foundation to chip away at the progress working people have made for ourselves and our communities. Now, they want the highest court in the land to take away our freedom to join together in union, which is the foundation of that progress. Taking away this freedom is the primary goal. The tactic in this case is to eliminate fair share fees for public employees.


Here’s what “fair share fees” mean:


  • After a majority votes to be represented, unions are required by law to represent and negotiate on behalf of all public service workers whether or not they choose to join a union, and all of the workers represented enjoy the benefits the union negotiates.

  • These fees cover the cost of unions representing all employees. Without requiring these fees, even the workers who contribute nothing will receive all the benefits of a union contract.

  • Not one cent can be used to support a candidate’s political campaign over a nonmember’s objection. Period. Employees have been able to opt out of such spending for decades.


Corporate backers hope a ruling in their favor will bleed unions of precious resources, taking away the ability to win progress for working people and making it easier to roll back what took decades to win. Should the Supreme Court rule against the freedoms of workers by limiting or eliminating fair share fees, it will undoubtedly further stack the deck to favor the wealthy few. But working people aren’t waiting on any politician or judge to decide our fate; we’re taking matters into our own hands.


Something is happening in America:


  • Public approval of unions is soaring (Gallup Poll, 61%, highest since 2003).


  • 262,000 new union members joined the labor movement in 2017 (three-fourths of whom are younger than 35).


  • More than 14,000 workers formed and joined unions in one week earlier this year.


  • Historic teacher strikes and collective action is sweeping the country.

The fictional narrative of labor’s downfall is being upended by the reality working people are creating for ourselves. In Janus, the Supreme Court can either uphold decades of commonsense precedent or make it even harder for workers to get ahead. Yet no matter the outcome of this case, millions of workers will continue to stand together to build a stronger, fairer America.

Source: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka