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Minnesotans Defend Unions Before Crucial Court Case

Union supporters filled the State Capitol rotunda for Saturday's Working People's Day of Action. (Laurie Stern)
Union supporters filled the State Capitol rotunda for Saturday's Working People's Day of Action. (Laurie Stern)
February 26, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The future of unions could hang on a case being argued Monday before the U.S. Supreme Court.

It's called Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and an Illinois man who says it’s unconstitutional to charge him for belonging to a union workplace brought it.

AFSCME, the union that represents 1.6 million people, will argue that all workers benefit from a collectively bargained contract.

"Our union delivers a lot of services for people,” says Kathleen Farber, an AFSCME retiree who came to a rally in St. Paul over the weekend. “We do the contract negotiations, grievance processing, and those things cost money.

“If people don't have to pay anything, we're going to end up underfunding our unions, and eventually they'll be crippled by it."

Hundreds of union supporters including faith leaders, elected officials and immigrant rights groups attended the rally at the State Capitol.

It was part of a national event called the Working People's Day of Action, timed to coincide with the Janus arguments.

Destiny Dusosky came from St. Cloud with her mother, also an AFSCME member and her daughter, who plans to attend college next year with some financial help from the union.

"Because of my union, I'm able to afford good health care for my children,” she points out. “I'm able to one day hopefully retire with dignity.

“Those are really important benefits to me, and if we didn't collectively bargain for those, I wouldn't have them right now."

In 2016, the Supreme Court heard a similar case from California, but voted 4-4 and never decided the case because of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. This time, all eyes will be on the new justice, Neil Gorsuch.

Because President Donald Trump appointed Gorsuch, union members are worried that the court will rule against them.

Dave Snyder, an ironworker on construction jobs statewide, came to St. Paul to defend what he says is the middle class life unions have helped to provide.

"We are destroying the very fabric of America,” he insists. “So we have to stand strong and we have to support our local unions."

The court is expected to decide the case by the end of June.

Laurie Stern, Public News Service - MN