Union members packed the hearing room on Beacon Hill on Tuesday, as the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development took public comment on pending legislation. Steve Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, took to the stand, flanked by dozens of labor leaders from across the state. (Click here for a video of his address)
The message was this: We are united against right-wing attacks to the Labor Movement, and we demand the state legislature address the Janus vs. AFSCME ruling.
In Tolman’s own words, “Make no mistake, the Janus case was entirely political and designed to break the backs of unions. Fortunately, they missed the mark; instead of weakening our collective voice, working families stood together. And we are standing together today.”
For those out of the loop, the Janus vs. AFSCME ruling in the Supreme Court last year undermined the ability of public sector unions to collect “fair share” fees from non-members, which contribute to the costs of contract negotiations and grievance representation. Workers in a workplace represented by a union could already opt-out of membership dues, but were required to contribute a smaller sum in the form of these “fair share” fees since the workers benefited from collectively-bargained wage and benefit increases, and because the union was legally required to represent them in grievance cases.
The new ruling is a considerable threat to the existence of public sector unions in the United States, since it allows represented employees to “free ride” by benefiting from the unions presence without contributing a cent to its operating costs. This ruling did not stroll neutrally out of the cosmos, but rather is one front in a coordinated, billionaire-backed effort to undermine unions which was crowned with the securement of a reactionary court majority. Let us be clear, this is class war.
Multiple pieces of similar legislation, including H1596 “An Act Relative To Collective Bargaining,” aim to respond to this class-warfare at the state level. The legislation supported by the unions represented would, among other things, allow for unions to charge fees to non-member employees to access representation in the arbitration of grievances. This fee-for-service model will allow unions to mitigate the cost of “free riding” employees; if the employee does not pay for the costs associated with their representation, the union will be relieved of the responsibility of representing them.
The Janus decision was widely anticipated to be a disaster for unions, but so far it has been received with less drama than anticipated. With their treasuries coming under threat, unions which had neglected to organize and engage their members suddenly felt the pressure was on; the general consensus is that efforts to increase member participation and satisfaction have been mostly successful. Unions have reported only minimal numbers of opt-out employees who have chosen the path of free-ridership.
But this does not mean that the post-Janus environment is free from new hazards to unions. The anti-union groups have the ability to employ “opt-out” campaigns that target specific union members on social media in order to attack union treasuries. As of yet, there has not been reports of wide-scale efforts to convince the entire public sector union membership to de-certify, but a handful of campaigns have been reported. One possibility is that anti-union groups will pick and choose when to deploy such campaigns, in order to pressure unions against taking certain stances or backing certain candidates.