Strength, unity and education will be the way to fight the United States Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision last week on Janus v. AFSCME 31 that overturned more than four decades of legal precedent.
That was the message given at the opening session of the SMART Transportation Division Regional Meeting on July 1 in Seattle.
The 49-page decision written by Justice Samuel Alito and supported by the four other conservative justices eliminates the ability of public sector unions to collect agency fees from those employees who refuse to be union members, yet still receive the benefits negotiated by unions.
“Janus is something that is indicative of an anti-labor movement in certain parts of the government that they’re working very hard to take away the rights and privileges that we have worked for for a number of years,” SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich said.
SMART TD General Counsel Kevin Brodar explained to attendees the magnitude of the decision and how the conservative tilt of the court, achieved with the installation of President Donald Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch, poses an ongoing menace to labor.
“It is everything we thought it would be,” Brodar describe the Janus decision, written by Alito. “From every page drips his contempt for labor and unions. This is less a legal opinion as it is a right-wing manifesto against labor. That’s the sad story.
“Justice Alito and his Federalist Society conspirators are once again trying to sell the public on a two-century-old idea that organized labor is nothing more than legalized extortion. Having lost the battle of ideas over the years because unions are still here, they have taken the idea that they can strangle unions out of existence by ending their funding.”
Janus overturns the 9-0 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education made in the 1970s in which, Brodar said, “some of the heaviest hitters in the legal field” all agreed that unions had the power to collect agency fees from “free-riders,” non-paying members who still received benefits negotiated by the unions.
“This is essentially a green light to anyone who wants to stop paying unions dues in the public sector,” Brodar said. “The idea is to drain union coffers of their money, drain them of their political clout, drain them of the ability to represent their members. With that, disappears a decent wage, pension plans, health care — all gone. That’s the plan of this case.”
The Janus decision is another attack on the United States labor movement, Brodar said — the newest moment in a long line of resistance against people uniting for a common cause to improve their lives.
“This case is an attack on working people. It’s an attack not just on public sector unions, but all of us in this room. This is an attack on every member of this union,” Brodar said. “No matter how many bayonets and bullets they used, they couldn’t kill the idea. They couldn’t kill the cause. It exists today. Why is that? Because this is a righteous and just cause. And you, all of you here, are the heirs to that cause.”
The fight will continue, Brodar said, and he urged members to come together, educate themselves and be prepared to battle future efforts to weaken the power of labor and tip the scales in the favor of the carriers.
“This is not the last shot. There will be many more shots coming. It’s up to us to respond,” Brodar said.
“If this union disappears, there are dark days ahead. There are dark days right now — there will be another Supreme Court appointment who won’t be a labor-friendly guy.
“What we need is solidarity. It’s solidarity that brought us here,” Brodar said. “There’s work to be done, and it’s time.”