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Q&A: Janus v. AFSCME

Q&A
What is the Janus v. AFSCME case?
Over the next few months, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a lawsuit that could weaken the voices of working people and unions, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). This case aims to take away the freedom and opportunity for working people to unite together in strong unions, and speak up for themselves, their families and their communities.

What is the case about?
This case is about taking away our freedom to stand up as one united group and make progress on issues important to everyone throughout our union. This progress includes making a living wage that supports our families, access to quality health care, retirement security and time off work to care for a loved one.

Janus is challenging the authority of public employee unions to collect mandatory fees that allow us to negotiate fair contracts. Currently in Minnesota, the law says if you choose not to be a union member, you must still pay your “fair share” for the work the union does to benefit you. Our laws protect “free speech” of individuals opposed to union membership by providing a second option (fair share). Fair share payers contribute only toward the services that benefit them. These benefits include negotiations for better salaries, benefits and working conditions, and contract administration.

The lawsuit was filed two years ago by Mark Janus, a child protective services employee in Illinois represented by AFSCME. Janus is being represented by the National Right to Work Foundation and Liberty Justice Center. The case is bankrolled by the same billionaires and corporate CEOs that passed anti-union legislation in many states, including Wisconsin, with a goal of moving all 50 states toward right-to-work. A recent article in The Guardian highlighted how this case is part of an $80 million campaign backed by the Koch brothers’ network to “defund and defang” unions.

The truth is that no one is forced to join a union and no one is forced to pay any fees that go to politics or political candidates. This is already the law of the land. Nothing in Janus will change this.

Has a similar case been heard by the Supreme Court before?
This court is trying to legislate an anti-labor and anti-family agenda by overturning a 40-year-old law. In 1977, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that teachers, firefighters, health care workers and other public employees have the right to form a union. The high court further ruled that the union would be their exclusive representative for bargaining wages, benefits and working conditions, just like workers in the private sector. The court also ruled that unions could charge workers who didn’t want to join a “fair share” fee that covers collective bargaining for the entire unit, members and non-members alike.

Who would be affected?
More than 20 states, including Minnesota, have laws establishing mandatory “fair share” fees employees pay to unions. The remaining “right-to-work” states either prohibit collective bargaining by public employees or ban mandatory dues and fees. Although the Janus case directly involves AFSCME, the decision could affect all unions representing public workers depending on how broad or narrow the ruling is.

What does this mean for MAPE?
MAPE will continue to be required by law to represent and negotiate for all employees in our bargaining unit. Currently, employees who don’t want to join our union contribute to the cost of that representation through “fair share” fees instead of union dues. We all benefit from union representation, so we should all contribute to the cost. The Janus decision threatens to eliminate the “fair share” fees, which means MAPE would still have to represent, and negotiate wages and health care for employees not paying for these services.

MAPE’s power as a union stems from our members. We are stronger together than apart. If MAPE loses members, we lose power. Without power, it’s harder to negotiate fair contracts. On average, workers in right-to-work states earn 9 percent less than workers in strong union states. Health care benefits, paid time off and retirement benefits are significantly better in unionized workplaces. Due process is also nearly exclusive in workplaces that are unionized.

If we can’t stand together, it will be harder to maintain our rights as workers and provide Minnesotans the services they need. We must ensure the voices of workers and unions are not weakened so we can continue to fight for workers and their families throughout our state.

What’s MAPE doing to prepare for the verdict?
Over the last several years, we’ve been working to better connect with members to build a stronger organization and are continuing to do this through one-on-one conversations. We’re reaching out to members to discuss how we can provide better services and have safer workplaces, better benefits, wages and security. We’re working hard to solidify our member base and sign up “fair share” payers as full-fledged members.

MAPE has been a good steward of your dues and has budgeted for tougher times. Based on unions’ experiences in right-to-work states where membership declines and fair share fees are no longer being collected, our Board appointed four directors to work with the Finance Committee to create our 2018 budget that cuts $1.4 million from MAPE’s current budget levels.

Why should I stay/become a MAPE member?
Public employees make the difference between a good state and a great state. For more than 35 years, MAPE has provided a unified voice for public employees across our state as we worked to make Minnesota a great place to live, work and play. We have fought for workers, their families and communities since the beginning, and will keep standing up for the Minnesotans we proudly serve.

Unions use their collective voice to advocate for policies that benefit all working people like increases to the minimum wage, affordable health care and safe workplaces. Through collective bargaining, members of strong unions are scoring victories that help entire communities, like safer nurse-staffing levels that help patients and smaller classroom sizes that help students.

Unions are more important than ever and Americans know it. New research shows that more than three-in-five Americans have a favorable view of labor unions. That’s the highest level in nearly 15 years. Support is even stronger among young people. When union membership is high, entire communities enjoy wages that represent a fair return on their work, and greater social and economic mobility.

Strong unions advocate for equal opportunity for women and people of color who have been systemically discriminated against. Because unions allow all workers to join together to negotiate with their employers for fair wages and benefits, the wage gap between women and men in unions is dramatically lower than in nonunion workplaces. Meanwhile, most nonunion women still earn about 81 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts.

Union jobs have historically been, and continue to be, a path to the middle class for people of color, who often face low wages in their professions. African-American union members today earn 14.7 percent more (21.8 percent more for Latino union workers) than their nonunion counterparts.

Opting out of union membership will weaken MAPE and the future of all our members. Employers who must bargain with workers collectively cannot pursue a strategy of “divide and conquer” among their workers. None of us are as strong individually as we are together. We all benefit from union representation, so we should all contribute to its cost. Together, we can build a stronger union that serves as a cornerstone for quality public services and good jobs for all state professional employees.

Are fee payers legally members of the union?
No. Current law does not require a fee payer to be a member of the union. No employee can be forced to join a union or provide financing for its political activities.

Not a member? You can go here to join: Become a member now!

When will the Janus case be decided?
U.S. Supreme Court justices have not yet heard the case, but are expected to early in 2018 with a decision coming by June.

What would it mean if the Supreme Court says workers can opt out of a fair share fee and continue to receive benefits? While this type of decision would run contrary to decades of laws reinforcing union rights, it could severely impact the strength of labor unions and solidarity among memberships. Our power as a union stems from our members. If we can’t stand together, it will be harder to maintain our rights as workers and provide Minnesotans the services they need. We must ensure the voices of workers and unions are not weakened so we can continue to fight for workers and their families throughout our state.

A ruling like this would put unions in an unfair position of being required to represent employees, and negotiating terms and conditions of employment on behalf of employees without the requirement of sharing in the costs of those benefits. We all benefit from union representation so we should all contribute to its cost. Together, we can build a stronger union that serves as a cornerstone for quality public services and good jobs for all state professional employees.

What organizations are backing this case?
Janus is being represented by the National Right to Work Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center. It is bankrolled by the same billionaires and corporate CEOs that passed anti-union legislation in many states, including Wisconsin. The goal of these conservative, anti-union organizations is to move all 50 states toward right-to-work.