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Expert: SCOTUS Case Could Forever Change Unions

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Monday, February 26, 2018   

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Union members in Michigan and nationwide will be keeping a close eye on the U.S. Supreme Court this week, as it takes up the case Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Mark Janus, an Illinois public employee, is challenging a 1977 decision that obligated union members to pay the portion of dues that goes to collective bargaining, but made optional the portion that goes toward political activity.

Labor expert Michelle Kaminski from Michigan State University says if the justices side with Janus, public unions would have to work on behalf of people who aren't paying for the benefits.

"When employees are covered by a contract, everybody who's in that bargaining unit gets the benefits of that contract,” she points out. “They get increased wages, benefits, terms and conditions of employment."

Kaminski adds that last year the average union worker in Michigan made about $11,000 more than the average nonunion worker, with dues being less than $1,000 per year.

Those supporting Janus equate collective bargaining by government employees with lobbying, and say Janus should be protected by the First Amendment from having to pay his fair share fees.

Kaminski says it's important to note that unions are a reflection of the greater democracy we live in, and can be voted out if that is the will of the majority of members.

"We don't get to say, 'I don't want to pay my taxes because I don't like the current officeholders this year, but I liked them last year, so last year I paid my taxes,'” she points out. “We live by majority rule, and unions are democratic organizations in the workplace. "

In a controversial move, Michigan's Republican-led Legislature voted to make Michigan a right-to-work state during the 2012 lame duck legislative session, and Kaminski says a ruling in Janus' favor would essentially make right-to-work the law of the land for all public sector employees.

It's estimated the outcome of the case will affect 5 million public workers across 22 different states.


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