Disaster Averted: How Unions Have Dodged the Blow of Janus (So Far)

Public-sector unions defied the Right’s attempt to crush them—and were transformed in the process.

By: Heather Gies

Janus could also spark a labor surge. "It might generate a higher level of union activism. If that happens, what they’ve intended to do here may backfire."

Months after the Supreme Court’s June 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision, public-sector unions are not teetering on the brink of collapse, as their detractors may have hoped. The consensus is that good preparation softened the initial blow.

“Anyone writing our obituary is going to be sorely disappointed,” Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees(AFSCME), tells In These Times. “We don’t believe we are going to get hurt nearly as badly as people thought by Janus.”

U.S. labor law requires unions to represent everyone in a bargaining unit whether or not they opt to be official, dues-paying union members. Prior to Janus, most states required those who opted out to pay for that representation through “fair-share fees,” set at a percentage of dues. In one fell swoop, Janus eliminated fair-share fees for public-sector unions nationwide, allowing nonmembers to get all the benefits of the union without paying.

In These Times spoke with five U.S. public-sector unions affected by Janus: AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the National Education Association (NEA) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA). Before Janus, workers who only paid their fair share and did not choose to be members made up 3 percent to 9 percent of the people represented by these unions. With the ruling, revenue from public-sector fair-share fees vanished.

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