During the week we return to school from February Recess, the Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments in the Janus v. AFSCME case, which seeks to destroy public sector unions by eliminating mandatory fees (agency fees) for collective bargaining. Just to be clear, in 1977, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that so called "agency fees" were Constitutional (Abood v Detroit BOE). In the Abood case, the Court ruled that union members in the public sector have the right to opt out of paying for the union's political action by dropping their union membership; however, since everyone in the workplace gains from collective bargaining, those who drop their membership must still pay a fee to the union for all the benefits they receive from their contract.
Mark Janus, a home healthcare worker from Illinois, is claiming that all the actions of the union, from contract benefits to defending members accused of wrong doing, are political in nature, and, therefore, he should not be forced to pay mandatory fees to support political actions he does not believe in.
Although it is undeniable that unions and union leadership tend to lean towards the political left, I would simply ask the PFT membership to look at our almost fifty page contract and answer the following questions:
Are the pay raises you receive liberal or conservative?
Are sick days liberal or conservative?
Is paying only 20% for health insurance liberal or conservative?
Is bereavement leave liberal or conservative?
I could go on and on; however, I hope the point of these questions is clear. We all benefit from our lengthy contract, and the provisions found within have absolutely nothing to do with politics and everything to do with improving the quality of life for those who are members of the PFT.
Finally, you may be asking yourself, if Mark Janus also benefits from his lengthy contract, what or who is really behind this case? It costs millions in lawyer fees to bring a case to the Supreme Court, so it should be no surprise to find out that the National Right to Work Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center are bankrolling the Janus case. Both groups are part of a network funded by billionaires and corporate CEOs who do not believe that working people deserve the same freedoms they have: to negotiate a fair return on their work.
Unfortunately, due to the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court last year, it seems almost inevitable that Mark Janus will win his case, and "Right to Work for Less" will become the law of the land by the end of this school year. So, how do we fight back to preserve all the benefits and guarantees in our contract?
- Maintain membership in the PFT by paying dues.
- Talk to friends and colleagues about the importance of being in a strong union.
- Get more active in our union.
- Let our union voice be heard loud and clear by all elected leaders and politicians!
Our union is our voice for a strong, equitable, and fair public education system for all children. Our union is our voice for a secure retirement, higher pay, and better health benefits. Our union promotes respect for the teaching profession and the hard work we do every day at school. The Janus case is a threat to our voice, our values, and our union!
Make sure you let everyone in this country know that, "I'm sticking with the union"! In solidarity.