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Commentary: The right-wing assault, post Janus

Commentary by staff |
July 27, 2018
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New York, NY - The same right-wing organizations that funded the legal case of Janus v. AFSCME are now funding round two of the assault on public sector unions all across the United States.

Public sector workers in states that allow them to organize and exercise collective bargaining rights are now in an open shop situation, i.e. they are no longer bound to pay dues or fees to their unions. The Supreme Court decision also allows current members to drop out of the union. After the decision, public sector unions almost immediately stopped receiving fee payments as state, county and municipal governments instituted compliance with the Supreme Court ruling. It should be noted that unions are still obligated by the various state labor relations laws to represent all the workers in a bargaining regardless of whether they pay dues or not.

In response to the expected decision, some unions were able to lobby state legislatures to pass laws that would make signing up new members easier and the process of dropping out more difficult. An example is New York state, where such legislation was recently approved.

Right-wing billionaires have funded a host of state based organizations that have coordinated the assault on unions and workers. Examples are the Manhattan Institute in New York City, the Yankee Institute in Connecticut and the Mackinac Institute in Michigan. These organizations are now conducting campaigns aimed at current union members to convince them to drop out of their unions.

Websites with deceptive names, such as “My Pay, My Say,” have been set up to convince union members that unions are something other than workers coming together to advance their own interests. Members are being called, leafleted and door knocked by paid hirelings of these right-wing groups to convince workers “to give themselves a raise,” by dropping out of the union and stopping dues payments.

These efforts are designed to weaken unions and the power of workers. If union membership drops, there will be less funds available for political work and lobbying, thus making it easier for the ruling class to drive down wages and benefits of the working class. Unions will have less money to defend their members on the job and enforce their contracts, thus making them less credible in the eyes of the workers, who then might choose to stop paying dues.

Public sector unions that did a good job of communicating with their members and involved them in the day-to-day struggles on the job are well positioned to defend themselves against these anti-union campaigns. Unions that do not do this well will be harder hit, because their members may not understand the issues involved, nor understand what a weaker union will mean for them in terms of their rights on the job, wages, pensions and other benefits of union contract.

The labor movement’s response to the Janus decision should be more and better organizing, both with their current members and the unorganized working class. This moment has come about after years of retreat and concessions and insular strategies that ignored the working class as a whole. Workers will stay in unions that fight every day and that bring more and more workers into that fight.