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Unions Standing Strong in Face of Big Supreme Court Case

Public employee unions could see a hit to revenue if the U.S. Supreme Court decides against them. (Matt Wade/Flickr)
Public employee unions could see a hit to revenue if the U.S. Supreme Court decides against them. (Matt Wade/Flickr)
February 26, 2018

SEATTLE – The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case Monday that has big implications for unions.

In Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), justices will decide whether employees represented by public unions have to pay so-called fair share fees if they do not want to be members.

If the court sides with Mark Janus, an Illinois public employee, unions would still work on behalf of these employees in collective bargaining and other negotiations, but the employees wouldn't have to pay for that representation. It would deliver a big blow to part of unions' revenue stream.

But Karen Strickland, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) of Washington, says it could be a wake-up call to unions and their members.

"We are doing the work, and if we do it effectively – to really engage our members in what the union is all about and how important organized labor is to their well-being on the job and in their communities and for their students and so on and so forth – then we can actually come out stronger on the other side," she states.

Briefs filed in support of Janus say he shouldn't have to pay union fees on First Amendment grounds.

Strickland notes that dues to AFT Washington are not used for political spending.

Union membership has declined nationwide in the past few decades, especially as more states become right-to-work states, meaning employees don't pay for representation.

However, membership in Washington state has actually grown by 84,000 since 2015, with the biggest gains among young people.

The public unions in the 22 states that are not right-to-work, including Washington, represent about 5 million workers.

Strickland says the attack on unions extends beyond this case and is so vigorous because the unions are effective at protecting and representing workers.

"Our members' salaries and benefits are better because they're in a union,” she stresses. “Injury and fatality rates are significantly lower when people have a union.

“The percentage of employees who actually have health care coverage is higher when people are in unions."

Strickland adds that wages are higher even for non-union members in cities where union representation is high.

This is the second in a two-part series on the effect of the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court case on Washington state's public unions.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA