Union fee case draws protestors to Supreme Court

Keith Laing

Washington -- Supporters and opponents of mandatory fees that some government employees must pay their unions voiced their arguments Monday outside the U.S. Supreme Court as justices prepared to hear the case.

The case, known in legal circles as Janus v. AFSCME, involves a child support specialist for the state of Illinois named Mark Janus who is challenging a requirement that forced him to pay fees that were designed to cover the cost of the union representing him.

At stake is a 40-year-old precedent out of Detroit known as Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, in which the court unanimously upheld mandatory public-sector union fees, also called agency fees, in 1977.

Terry Bowman, a Metro Detroit Ford Motor Co. employee and president of Union Conservatives, said he was protesting in favor of Janus’ position on overturning union fees.

“Workers need protections, sometimes against the very unions that say they have their best interests in mind,” said Bowman, who noted that he worked on an assembly line for Ford for 21 years.

“One of my big issues -- I do not like the political and social agenda that the unions engage in. It does not fit what I was raised as and it does not fit my Christian background,” Bowman continued.

“What’s interesting is that even though I have since withdrawn my membership from the UAW, I’m still forced to accept them as a representative. I cannot speak for myself at all, even though I don’t pay them anymore....I cannot go to my boss to talk about any kind of benefits, pay. Everything has to go through the union.”

Justin Delgadillo, an office cleaner in Rockville, Maryland who is a member of the 32BJ SEIU union, said he was concerned about the possibility of the Supreme Court striking a blow against public-sector unions by ruling in favor of Janus.

“From a member point of view, coming from a non-union job into a union job, I feel like it’s important because with a union you have a back-up with any problems you have with benefits, better pay, raises,” he said. “What they are trying to do with the dues is they’re not trying to pay it fully, but still they are trying to get the same benefits, but it doesn’t work for the people that are paying fully.”

Janus’ challenge is being closely watched because it endangers tens of thousands of union contracts in a little less than half of the states that are organized around the framework established in Abood.

Janus’ union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, counters that agency fees ensure that all workers who benefit from a collective-bargaining agreement pay their fair share of the cost of negotiating and administering it.

Peter MacKinnon, president of SEIU Local 509 in Massachusetts, said if the court sides with Janus it would be a major setback for public-sector unions.

“The attack that’s coming against unions and really against working people, we know what’s funding it,” he said. “We know what’s behind it. It’s the Koch Brothers, it’s the National Right-To-Work Defense Fund, which is funded by billionaires who have a sole desire to see unions go away. And they want that because when unions are weaker, communities are weaker and the rich are the only ones who benefit.”

MacKinnon said unions are more popular with rank-and-file workers than anti-labor groups have argued.

“I truly believe that working people understand the benefit of unions and why unions matters,” he said.

Akash Chougule, director of policy at Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group founded by David Koch, expressed optimism that the Supreme Court will ultimately side with Janus. That’s because, he said, “the crux of the case ... is that nobody should be forced to fund speech with which they disagree.”


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