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Oregon Teachers Follow Public Union Fight in Supreme Court

Teacher and other public employee unions could take a financial hit if the U.S. Supreme Court sides with an Illinois worker, Mark Janus, in his case against AFSCME. (Oregon Dept.of Transportation/Flickr)
Teacher and other public employee unions could take a financial hit if the U.S. Supreme Court sides with an Illinois worker, Mark Janus, in his case against AFSCME. (Oregon Dept.of Transportation/Flickr)
February 26, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. – Oregon teachers and other public employees are watching as a case with big implications for unions is heard in the U.S. Supreme Court Monday.

Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) could decide the fate of so-called fair share fees in public employee unions, paid by non-union members for the union representing them in collective bargaining.

If justices side with Illinois employee Mark Janus, non-union members won't have to pay those fees, but they would still receive representation. It could mean a major hit to union revenue.

But John Larson, president of the Oregon Education Association, says he doesn't think the prospects are grim for his union.

He says OEA is always reflecting on how to work for its members.

"We're constantly looking at conditions in our schools and trying to determine how we can positively impact the learning conditions of students, which are the working conditions of our members,” he states. “And so, we believe that that is an important aspect of union membership, whether Janus is there or not."

Supporters of Janus say he shouldn't have to pay fair-share fees on First Amendment grounds.

Twenty-eight states are known as right to work states, meaning people who are covered under public employee contracts don't have to pay the fair share fee for representation.

Oregon is not among them, although that could end if the justices side with Janus.

There have been efforts nationwide to weaken unions, but Larson maintains teachers' voices are being heard in Salem. He cites House Bill 4113 that would make class sizes a mandatory part of collective bargaining talks.

That bill has passed the House and is now in the Senate.

Larson sees the Janus case as just the latest attack on labor organizations.

"Some of the attacks that have come at us have been successful, some have not been successful – all have of them have had impacts in one way or the other,” he states. “But we continue to be strong because we are focused on our students and making sure that our students have quality learning environments, and that's what our members care about."

In a similar 2016 case, justices ended in a 4-to-4 deadlock over the fate of fair share fees.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR