The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that a Springfield man does not have to belong to a union, in a case that could have far-reaching implications for workers across the country.
Mark Janus, a child support specialist, sued in 2015 and said the state law required him to pay fees to a union that he did not support. The decision overturns a 1977 Supreme Court case, which said public workers who refuse to join a union can still be required to pay for bargaining costs as long as the fees don't go to political purposes.
“I’m thrilled that the Supreme Court has restored not only my First Amendment rights, but the rights of millions of other government workers across the country," Janus said in a press release sent out by the Liberty Justice Center. "So many of us have been forced to pay for political speech and policy positions with which we disagree, just so we can keep our jobs. This is a victory for all of us. The right to say ‘no’ to a union is just as important as the right to say ‘yes.’ Finally our rights have been restored.”
Janus was forced to pay fair share fees to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. A survey by that union found that 15 percent of the employees would stop paying fees if the fees were not mandatory. About half of the employees were undecided, and 35 percent said they would continue to pay, according to National Public Radio.
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The Supreme Court voted 5-4 in favor of Janus, which will change the law in 22 states. A similar case went before the Supreme Court in 2016; before the court issued its decision, Justice Antonin Scalia died, and the remaining members split the decision 4-4. In the Janus decision, conservative justices John G. Roberts Jr., Samuel Alito Jr., Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas were joined by Donald Trump's appointee, Neil M. Gorsuch.
During a brief media availability in Belleville on Wednesday, Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said the Trump Administration had asked the Supreme Court to rule in favor of Janus.
"I haven’t yet had a chance to read the decision, but that’s the law of the land," Acosta said.
In an interview, St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, a Democrat running in the 12th Congressional District in November’s election described the decision as another attack on organized labor and the middle class.
"This is going to hurt firefighters, this is going to hurt police officers, this is going to hurt teachers," Kelly said. "One in four veterans post 9/11 work in a public sector, and are supposed to be protected by these protections that have been put in place to protect organize labor, and this is just another example of how the agenda that Bruce Rauner and Mike Bost keep pushing is the exact opposite of what we need for southern Illinois."
Kelly said people who don’t want to pay union fair share dues may still benefit from the union.
“We all get frustrated when we have to pay taxes but we do it because we’re going to pay for police and firefighters and roads and that kind of staff,” Kelly said. “If you want to part of a group of people who are going to help you, you have to be able to contribute to being a part of something that’s going to help you. There’s no free ride in life. We all have to help each other. We all have to be able contribute and we all have an obligation to one another.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, who was a union firefighter, said he was disappointed with Wednesday's decision.
“The reality is with fair share, you didn’t have to participate in their politics, that’s the advantage,” Bost said. “We’ll take that money out and not participate in the politics. When somebody says ‘I don’t want to be represented by them.’ Well do you want to take the benefits and pay they argued on your behalf and receive it? That’s the argument I see as a union member.”
The Republican who is seeking a third term in the upcoming election knows he differs on this issue with several members of his own party.
"I understand why it is we have the ability to negotiate and negotiate in good faith, and I’ve defended that over the years," Bost said. "Even as members of my own leadership and members of my own party disagree with me and you know that happens, we disagree at times.”
Here's reaction to the ruling:
“I am appalled by today’s Supreme Court ruling on Janus v. AFSCME. While Bruce Rauner relentlessly pursued this special interest agenda, our state was decimated by his manufactured 736-day budget crisis. This is just another example of Rauner partnering with anti-worker special interest groups like the Illinois Policy Institute and the National Right to Work Foundation to pursue his own agenda over the best interests of working families. Illinois needs a governor who understands that unions built our middle class, not one who fights to undermine our workers at every turn. The fight is far from over and when I’m governor, Illinois’ working families will have a champion and an ally who will stand with them in the workplace and on the picket line.” — Democratic gubernatorial Illinois candidate J.B. Pritzker
“As income inequality rises and middle-class wages lag behind, we need to do everything we can to make it easier for working Americans to join a union and negotiate for fair wages and a better workplace. Unfortunately, this decision by the Supreme Court will do the opposite, overturning decades of precedent to make it harder for unions to effectively protect and support working people trying to achieve their own American Dream. I’m disappointed that the Court sided with the anti-union activists and well-funded corporations who want to chip away at workers’ rights, but I will continue to stand up to those who want to lower wages, roll back workplace protections and restrict entry into America’s middle class.” — U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois
"In Illinois, Governor Bruce Rauner has made it clear that he favors corporations and special interests over Illinois workers and their families. He has repeatedly pushed an agenda of hostility to unions. This agenda is hurting workers across Illinois. And now, Governor Rauner has spearheaded a litigation effort, which has resulted in the Supreme Court overturning a 40-year-old precedent and further rigging the economy against hardworking Americans across the country. This decision will drive down wages and reduce benefits – like health care and retirement – at a time when American workers are already struggling. I will keep fighting on behalf of families in Illinois and across the country for policies that create an economy that works for everyone." — U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Illinois
“As a former union firefighter and the grandson of a United Mine Workers representative, labor is in my blood. Unions have played an instrumental role in strengthening the hand of America’s working men and women for generations. It is only right that workers who receive higher pay, benefits, and workplace protections contribute their fair share of the costs. While this position may not always be popular in my party, for me it’s one that rises above politics.” — Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro
"I am profoundly disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision. Union representation is a path to the middle class and ensures fair treatment for workers in Illinois and across the country. It’s not surprising, but it is shameful that Governor Rauner would cheer this attack on working people’s power to organize and advocate for themselves and their communities. His war on organized labor is a war on minorities and women who make up the bulk of union membership. Though I disagree with the Supreme Court's ruling, I will abide by the courts' order. Once the lower courts give direction, my office will review the ruling and consult with state agencies to implement it." — Susana Mendoza, Comptroller of Illinois
“Though not unexpected, it was incredibly disappointing to see powerful special interests take precedence over the best interests of middle-class Americans at the Supreme Court today. This case was a direct attack on working people and the causes we fight for every day – protections like health care, safe workplaces, and small class sizes.This is personal for all teachers, school staff, college faculty and staff, graduate workers, and other hardworking public employees – but even more so here in Illinois, where Governor Bruce Rauner originated this well-funded attack. Rauner and his powerful friends are focused on eliminating unions because we are one of the last checks on their control and their attempts to rig the economy and democracy further against working people. And so no court case will divide us or stop our movement. We value our voice. We value our union. And we will keep fighting powerfully for the future we all deserve.” — Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery
“We are disappointed, but not surprised, by today’s Supreme Court decision that does not allow unions like ours to collect fees from non-members who benefit from the union’s work. Let’s be clear, the goal of the people who supported this legal case, including Governor Rauner, is to trying to silence IEA, NEA, local associations and other public employee unions. They want to stop us from using our collective voice to advocate for our students, for ourselves and for public education. They will fail. It has never been more vital that those of us who believe in fair contracts use our collective voice to make sure that all students have access to a high-quality public education. We will continue to spread the truth about the importance of union membership to all of our brothers and sisters working in schools. This fight is just beginning. We won’t let them stop us. We will use their attacks to build a stronger IEA and we will move forward together because we know we are stronger united.” — Illinois Education Association President Kathi Griffin
“The U.S. Supreme Court ‘s ruling today in favor of the plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME comes as no surprise. The right-wing court is following lockstep with President Trump, Gov. Rauner, the super wealthy and anti-union groups like the Illinois Policy Institute who want to deprive workers a voice and drive as much profit as possible to the top 1 percent regardless of the impact on everyday Americans who depend on the services public workers provide. What the court and these groups don’t realize, however, is that workers will not be deterred by such rulings and will continue to organize and unite to win fair wages and benefits while also providing the care and services that taxpayers want and deserve. When these forces came against our members in Harris v. Quinn, we fought back and became even stronger. We’re continuing to win better wages and work conditions in order to deliver better services. This attempt to turn back the clock to a time when there were sweatshops, child labor, long hours and no worker benefits will not prevail. As we’ve seen in states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona, workers want a voice on the job. America needs unions today more than ever because organized workers stand in the way of this right-wing corporate agenda.”— Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana Missouri & Kansas
"Bruce Rauner has made it crystal clear from Day One that his top priority as governor is to slash wages, undercut worker protections, and gut benefits by attacking the ability of working people to form strong unions. While Rauner may think today's decision gets him closer to those ends, he and his special interest friends will never stop our movement to protect working families and build a strong middle class in Illinois."— Illinois Working Together Campaign Director Jake Lewis
“Bosses around the country—including the billionaire in Springfield and the con man in Washington DC—are celebrating today’s Supreme Court’s decision. Janus vs. AFSCME Council 31 is a craven attack, underwritten by the wealthiest members of our rigged economy, on the ability of workers to fight for good jobs and robust public services. But the ruling by Trump’s Supreme Court should be no surprise. The real question is who will fight back? In Chicago and Illinois, union jobs in public schools, hospitals, and transportation were a pathway to the middle class for women and Black and Brown families. While Democrats will use today to defend workers, it was Democrats, not Republicans, who decimated those jobs when they privatized schools, sold parking meters, and closed public clinics. Both Democrats and Republicans refuse to ask their wealthy donors to pay taxes for the flourishing public services we deserve. In the aftermath of Janus, the attacks on our jobs, schools, and communities will only deepen. Working people need a real political alternative. That’s what United Working Families is here for.” — Emma Tai, Executive Director of United Working Families
"Illinois working people are under attack, and their ability to take collective action is one of the last lines of defense against the erosion and deliberate undermining of adequate pay and protections. Today’s decision, enabled by Bruce Rauner and the powerful special interests that initiated and funded this lawsuit, aims another blow at workers standing together to bargain for better working conditions and stronger communities. This ruling is also a reminder of the role Illinois’ attorney general can play in defending workers, even when they cannot count on protection from the federal government or the courts. As the state’s top lawyer, I will aggressively enforce labor laws and defend the right to bargain collectively. I’ve spent my career advocating for working people, sponsoring and supporting legislation to raise the minimum wage, enforce equal pay, guarantee paid sick time, create a robust Worker Protection Unit in the Office of the Attorney General and protect survivors of domestic violence while they are at work. Illinois workers and their families can count on me to speak out for policies that empower them, while politicians from the White House to the Governor’s Mansion continue plotting against the economic security of the middle class. Unions of working people secured many of the workplace protections that both union and non-union employees rely on today. The movement to weaken their collective voice is a threat to all Illinoisans going forward. Today’s decision puts the ball in our court to strengthen workers’ rights at the state level. I stand in solidarity with labor, and I’m ready to take on this fight as attorney general." — State Sen. Kwame Raoul, candidate for Illinois Attorney General