Upcoming Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME could drastically affect the financial resources of public sector unions, including some of the fourteen different labor unions at UC Santa Barbara, according to Laurence Young, union representative for Teamsters 2010.
If Janus v. AFSCME passes, it will reverse a 1977 decision in Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education that currently affects public sector workers in 22 states, including California. Abood affirmed that workers cannot be forced to join public sector unions.
However, the case stated that non-unionized workers are still required to pay “fair share fees” because they ultimately benefit from union bargaining activities.
“We really see this case as an attack on unions to make us weaker,” Young said. “This is really about getting rid of unions and making everybody individualized and atomized so that they don’t work together collectively.”
Some argue that they should not be required to pay these fees if they do not want to pay and that forcing them to pay fees is a violation of their First Amendment rights.
The plaintiff, Mark Janus, works as a child support specialist in the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, according to an op-ed he wrote for the Chicago Tribute in January 2016.
In the op-ed, he explains that when he was hired by the state of Illinois, he was not asked if he wanted a union to represent him. He later only found out the union was involved when money for the union was taken out of his paycheck.
“The union voice is not my voice. The union’s fight is not my fight. But a piece of my paycheck every week still goes to the union,” he wrote.
He wrote that he took his job because he cares about kids, but said he no longer wants to pay union dues.
He added that he is not anti-union, but that “unions aren’t a fit for everyone. And I shouldn’t be forced to pay money to a union if I don’t think it does a good job representing my interests.”
Tom Steel, a third-year philosophy, ethics and public policy major and Teamster 2010 Student Organizer, said Janus v. AFSCME would allow non-union members to “free-ride off the negotiating efforts of the union that everybody else pays into,” because labor unions are legally bound to represent them.
Steel explained that non-unionized workers currently pay fair share fees that cover the cost of the bargaining contract that the workers benefit from, and that the case would make it so that individuals not represented by a union would no longer have to pay fees.
“Free riders still have to be represented by the union. So if the free-riders have any grievances or any other issues like that, the union still has to expand resources to cover those members, even though those free-riders do not pay anything into the union whatsoever,” he added.
Public sector union laws differ slightly from private sector unions, Young said. Public sector unions are funded by taxpayers, while private sector unions are funded by business entities.
Janus v. AFSCME would affect public sectors unions. Private sector unions would not be similarly affected.
“There’s two sets of labor laws. One way to think of it is the private sector is governed by a national labor law, whereas the public section is done state by state. We fall under the California State Labor Law Code, the teamsters who work at UCSB and other unions too,” Young said.
Teamsters 2010 is statewide and covers all 10 UC campuses as well as the CSU campuses, according to Young.
Young explained that when a similar law was passed in Wisconsin recently, public sector workers’ wages immediately decreased, and even the non-unionized workers saw their wages go down.
“This just really hurts the whole economy because here at UCSB we’re the largest employer in Santa Barbara. Undercut my wages, then I’m not going to be able to shop locally, right, I’m just going to have to subsist on the bare minimum,” he said.
Right now, unions act as a check on workplace safety issues and workplace discrimination, Steel said.
“[Unions are] able to do that because they have the financial resources to provide resources for their members, to provide legal guidance to establish a fair and equitable workplace,” he said. “If the unions lose this financial backing, because free-riders won’t pay into the union, not only will they lose their strength, but this check on the employer is going to be diminished.”
He explained that if Janus v. AFSCME is passed, employees could face challenges similar to those from the late 1800s and early 1900s, where “employees did not have a voice that was able to combat the whims of the employer.”
“The bottom line is that this would weaken unions, and it would diminish the roles that unions have in their ability to protect their workers,” Steel said.
The Supreme Court will hear opening arguments for the case on Feb. 26.
A version of this article appeared on pg. 3 of the Feb. 15 issue of the Daily Nexus.