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Ore. Unions Still Confident in Face of Supreme Court Decision

Public unions have long expected Wednesday's Supreme Court decision, which will likely mean fewer dollars from the employees they represent. (Pixabay)
Public unions have long expected Wednesday's Supreme Court decision, which will likely mean fewer dollars from the employees they represent. (Pixabay)
June 28, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Despite a Supreme Court decision on Wednesday that could hurt their coffers, unions are confident their future is bright.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court sided with Illinois public union employee Mark Janus, saying he doesn't have to pay so-called fair-share fees for representation in collective bargaining. However, Oregon State Representative Barbara Smith-Warner, who has worked with unions in the past, said the decision won't stop the labor movement's momentum.

"I have watched thing after thing that was supposed to be the death knell of unions - other Supreme Court decisions, state bills, federal laws - and unions continue to thrive because working people get so much value in them," Smith-Warner said.

She said this ruling was expected. A similar case in 2016 ended in a deadlock after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. But members of Oregon's labor movement note union membership actually has increased over the past few years.

Writing for the majority, conservative justices said requiring employees to pay union fees forced those workers to finance union activity they might disagree with, violating their First Amendment rights.

While they will feel the squeeze, most unions don't expect a big hit to their finances. For instance, Oregon Education Association president John Larson said 95 percent of the 45,000 educators in his organization are full members, and 1,600 have converted to full members just in the last year.

Similarly, Oregon AFSCME Council 75 president Stacy Chamberlain said 88 percent of the people in her union are full members.

"This decision I don't think anybody would say was good. It's clearly an attack on workers, an attack on the labor movement," Chamberlain said. "But I think what we're doing in response to that is showing that workers aren't going to stand down when we're faced with these attacks."

Being in a union isn't just about contract negotiations. Smith-Warner said there is so much more to them, and often wages are the least of members' concerns.

"Whether it's patient safety for nurses or student safety for teachers, the only ability they have to really impact that is by being in a union," Smith-Chamberlain said; "because the laws are so skewed that the businesses and the managers kind of have all the power."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR