Democratic leaders in Congress and union officials have a message: We won’t take the Supreme Court’s Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 ruling lying down.
In a press conference at the U.S. Capitol, they highlighted the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2018, introduced Thursday by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and characterized it as at least part of the antidote to Wednesday’s ruling that could spell big trouble for the long-term future of labor unions.
Hirono’s bill would guarantee all public employees the right to join a union and to collectively bargain. It would also require employers to recognize public employee unions that are freely formed by a majority vote of workers. In addition, the legislation would guarantee that employers could deduct union membership fees from the payroll for public employees.
However, the legislation does not seek to reverse the Janus ruling’s specific judgment prohibiting “fair share” fees charged by a union. (More on that below.) Hirono said the bill represented a reaffirmation of workers’ collective bargaining rights.
“These are not normal times. We all need to come together and fight back against this all-out assault on working people,” Hirono said.
Democrats were spurred to action by Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision in Janus, in which a majority of the court found that unions’ fair share fees improperly force workers to subsidize private speech. In doing so, they prohibited public employee unions, the national teachers’ unions, and other labor groups from collecting those fees. Unions argued that the fees do not violate workers’ First Amendment rights, and also said that prohibiting such fees would create many “free riders” who benefit from unions’ work without paying.
But ultimately, in a 5-4 decision, the court sided with Mark Janus, a child support specialist from Illinois who fought against the fair share payments. The American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association have been ready for the court to rule against them in Janus for some time—they’ve cited likely negative outcomes from such a ruling such as a drop in membership, although they’ve also stressed it won’t spell their doom.
The bill doesn’t stand much of a chance in the GOP-controlled Congress. However, during the press conference, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York argued that even a Congress controlled by Republican lawmakers wouldn’t have been able to pass the substance of the Janus ruling through legislation, so extreme was the Supreme Court’s decision. Schumer called the decision “despicable.”
“When John Roberts came before us, he said he would call balls and strikes,” Schumer said, referring to the confirmation hearing of the Supreme Court’s chief justice in 2005. “The Janus decision was a political wild pitch, nowhere near the strike zone.”
A separate bill designed to protect unions and collective bargaining was introduced earlier this month by Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking Democrats on the House and Senate education committees, respectively. However, their bill would have also enshrined the right for unions to charge fair share fees into law, which was struck down in the Janus ruling.
Photo: Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, discusses the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act of 2018 that she introduced to bolster unions and collective bargaining rights at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday. (Andrew Ujifusa/Education Week)