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Supreme Court advances attack on Labor

Janus v. AFSCME Council 31–or better yet, Evil vs AFSCME, was a challenge to a 40-year-old precedent that allows public sector labor unions in non-right-to-work states to collect “agency” or “fair share” fees from individuals who are part of the bargaining unit but not members of the union. The Supreme Court overturned that precedent, and the agency fee is eliminated.

Another billionaire-backed attack on working families

This case is another attack by greedy CEOs and anti-union groups to crush working people and their families. This has been the goal of the right wing and their billionaire backers, capture the courts and pervert the constitution.

Like all workers, public employees must have a right to come together and negotiate for better wages, working conditions, benefits, retirement security, and safe workplaces.

Mark Janus was an Illinois public employee and member of AFSCME Council 31 who wanted all the benefits of being a union member but didn’t want to pay dues. While his fellow nurses, EMS workers, 911 dispatchers, and security personnel contributed their fair share, he wanted to be a “free rider.”

But the ones who are really invested in this case are the greedy bosses like the Koch Brothers and the anti-worker groups they back like the National Right to Work Foundation, and Americans for Prosperity.  And so is Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, a millionaire himself, who has been pushing an agenda that benefits corporations and the wealthy on the backs of working people. Rauner filed a lawsuit in his own name to bar the collection of fair share fees by public service unions, but the case was dismissed.

What does this mean for ATU members?

What does this mean for you in the garage, on the bus, in the shop, at the station, in the office?

Bottom line: free-riding is allowed. It is the law of the land for public employees, including almost 90,000 of our members. Those who work for public transit agencies can drop out of ATU and pay nothing. And here’s the kicker: they still get the benefits of being a member of your Local and the ATU.

They will be free riders enjoying the pay, benefits and protections that your Locals have negotiated while not contributing anything towards your Local’s activities to represent workers  - contract bargaining, health and safety, grievance arbitration, contract administration, and various other activities.

This SCOTUS ruling is a landmark decision of the high court’s anti-worker agenda.

Making lemonade out of lemons

While it is wrong and bad for working people, the ATU believes it is an opportunity to show the value of being a member of their Local and the ATU.

The old saying goes “make lemonade out of lemons” and that’s what the ATU has been doing.


What the ATU has done to prepare

Fortunately, the ATU is using this moment to rediscover its roots and strengthen its locals. To prepare for a post-Janus world, thousands of ATU Local leaders have been through training sponsored by the International.  Leaders are learning how locals in places like Michigan, Georgia, Texas, Florida and Arizona have maintained strong memberships and good contracts despite so-called “Right to Work” laws.  Public sector leaders are learning the habits of those locals.  Many ATU leaders are learning that they are doing many of the actions and activities that promote a strong membership already.

No Substitute for Face to Face Communications

There is no substitute for face to face communications inside local unions.  Social media is great, but it does not substitute for union members sitting down with each other and learning about each other’s interests. 

Some of the meetings are one-to-one, but many are small group meetings conducted informally in the break rooms on the property.  Not everyone can make monthly union meetings.  Strong locals don’t depend entirely on those monthly meetings to discuss important issues.

Action is oxygen to locals

ATU members are learning that action is like oxygen to a local union.  When the union is active, and when it is working on issues both inside and outside the workplace that address key concerns of the members the union is stronger.  Perhaps it is a campaign to increase funding for transit, like local 689 in the Washington, DC took part in and won, or it is expanding service, where local 732 in Atlanta along with coalition partners, won a couple of years ago. These kinds of actions make for a more powerful union, one that transit workers are proud to belong to.

Leadership training is an important part of keeping the union strong.

The ATU is taking the lead on training, especially with the creation of the Tommy Douglas Conference Center.  Much of the training provided by the International in the last year has also taken place regionally and locally all over the USA. While many members may have come to recent trainings fearful of the changes the court decision represents, most ATU members left optimistic about the future of their local in this new environment.

In addition, we will be conducting a series of Facebook Live sessions and developing additional training, tools, and strategies to build a plan and strengthen internal communications and engagement with our members.

The importance of a strong union

Years ago, members of the ATU wore a different colored pin on their lapel each month to show they were members in good standing in the union.  In those days dues were collected by hand and not through payroll deduction. Keeping up with everyone must have been difficult, but starting 125 years ago, transit workers understood the importance of a strong union and did what they had to do to organize and preserve one.  Those workers faced stiff opposition.

Today, workers face stiff opposition, too.  Even though it involves a lot of work and relearning old lessons, what the Janus prep campaign taught us is that just like our union ancestors, people want a strong union and are willing to do what it takes to have one.

Years from now, it would not be surprising to think the Janus decision ultimately helped make the ATU even stronger than before.