Janus vs AFSCME case focuses on public sector unions’ ability to collect fees from nonmembers. Mark Janus, a child support specialist for the state of Illinois, chose not to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, but the law says he’s required to pay fees to the union. The logic is that since Janus’ compensation is determined by a contract negotiated between AFSCME and the state, Janus should be required to pay “fair share” fees to the union. Otherwise, he could be accused of freeloading.
The argument is that requirement to pay union dues when unions support political candidates that’s not in views of all its members violates his First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly: No union members should be compelled to fund a political organization he rejects. The key point in the case is whether the union dues we pay force a member to do that.
Right now Twenty-three states allow their public unions to collect the fees. The Supreme Court upheld the system in the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. Under Abood, unions can collect the fees without violating the Constitution so long as they only use the revenue to cover costs directly related to their collective-bargaining work. At the same time, the Court said, the money can’t be used to pay for a union’s political or ideological activities.
Union leadership fear that if Janus prevails, they will bleed operating funds to the point of ineffectiveness. But the conservative justices seemed unconvinced, professing that overruling the 1977 decision wouldn’t change the condition of unions. They said that if employees think they have benefited from union representation, they will still pay union dues or fair-share fees, even if the fee is not mandatory.
As we see in the last County Executive election, law enforcement unions, including my union, the Westchester Correction Officers Benevolent Association (COBA) supported Republicans who have apparently been attacking labor rights and collective bargaining. President Alonzo West and some Executive Board members stood with Republican Astorino after eight years of horrific loss of salaries and health care benefits without the memberships consent.
When correction union members organized under a fraternal law enforcement organization and decided to speak to county elected officials regarding workplace safety and benefits, COBA officials sent a Cease and Desist. What union will attempt to stop its members from talking to county elected officials and use their union dues money to sue their members? There is a more significant fear of the Janus decision; the lack of union democracy within union today might send membership running.
If we’re honest, many unions members have complained about the same problem with what some might call union status quo. Lack of representation, lack of accountability, lack of information — will not reappear in the new union. Merely switching unions like you change a pair of shoes is not a recipe for a stronger, more democratic union. That requires members to take control of the union.
As a Black Law Enforcement Professional, dealing in essential protections of civil rights and equality of opportunity for racial minorities officers—the practices of many law enforcement unions can hardly be described as pro-equality outside of collective bargaining protections. Many unions have a long history of racial discrimination—and it is this tradition of discrimination which is responsible, at least in part, for the marginal status of the Black Officer. Even if the union President is black because his concern is to distance himself from his blackness to stay in office so he can never be labeled “too Black”, “a Radical” or he will be outcast from the dominant white culture of Law Enforcement.
Personally, I believe we will be in a labor renaissance where the status quo union leadership will be exposed to be either for labor rights or fraud for themselves, and union members will have the right to reorganize and get the power back to the membership. Only time will tell.