HARTFORD, CT — Union workers in Connecticut are worried about the impact a U.S. Supreme Court decision—that has yet to be made — may have on their ability to organize.
They’re worried the U.S. Supreme Court will decide in favor of Mark Janus, the child-support specialist from Illinois who sued the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for taking $45 from his paycheck each month, even though he declined union membership.
Unions are concerned that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of Janus and limit their ability to collect dues that would be used for collective bargaining.
Oral arguments lasted for an hour this morning in Washington DC while unions in Connecticut rallied in four locations across the state, including Hartford and New Haven.
Court watchers expect Justice Neil Gorsuch will be the vote that breaks the tie in favor of Janus. A previous similar case split 4-4 in January 2016 before Gorsuch was seated on the court.
The Janus decision, if it came down in favor of Janus, would have an impact on public employee unions across the nation. There are 24 states that allow at least some public employee unions to collect “agency fees,” according to AFSCME’s brief in the case.
Connecticut labor unions rallied on the steps of the Connecticut Supreme Court building in Hartford Monday to show their support.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, who works as an education coordinator for AFSCME Council 4, said collective bargaining is part of the fabric of Connecticut “and that’s not going to change any time soon.”
He said this November “collective bargaining will be on the ballot.”
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said last year they had to defend the right to collectively bargain last year when they approved $1.57 billion in labor savings last summer.
“This is not something that’s happening just in Texas or Republican states,” Ritter said. “We almost had amendments passing that would have eliminated the right of workers to get together.”
He said all collective bargaining does is lift people up and all taking it away would do it “tear people down.” He asked the crowd to stay active through the November election.
Lori Pelletier, president of the AFL-CIO, said this fight “is about the soul of America. It’s about our soul as union members.”
The fight is no longer a distant one for Connecticut labor, which until recently enjoyed large Democratic majorities in the General Assembly.
Pelletier said there are people at the state Capitol across the street “who want to see you make less money. Be less safe on the job and not have a voice on the work floor. And that’s what we’re standing up against today.”
Union membership may be declining, but in Connecticut there are still over 200,000 union members, according to Pelletier. And despite the declining membership, labor still has political clout when it comes to getting voters to the polls.
Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, who is also running for attorney general, was the one who defended the collectively bargained savings on the House floor last July.
D’Agostino told the crowd Monday that organized labor is the only check left on the concentration of wealth and power in this county. He said no one should be surprised that the wealthy want to “undermine the only check left on it.”
D’Agostino told the crowd that Republicans introduced legislation last week that seeks to take away their collective bargaining rights.
“This is nothing more than turning this state into Wisconsin,” D’Agostino said as he waved a copy of the bill.
“They didn’t write this themselves. This is paid for and funded by and written by the same people paying Mark Janus’s legal bills,” he added.
He said he’s telling anyone who will listen that public employees and labor unions are not to blame for the unfunded pension liabilities because they paid in when the politicians did not.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, who helped draft the bill D’Agostino was waving around, said he’s “consumed by his blatant political ambitions as he is running for Attorney General who is supposed to be the voice of every Connecticut resident, not just genuflect to a partisan base.”
She said they have proposed a “slew of cost saving measures to be enacted over time that would help us get out from under a mountain of debt in pension and healthcare obligations.”
She pointed out that Connecticut is one of only four states that collectively bargains pensions for public employees “46 other states do it differently and we believe changes are necessary for the good of all.’’
The legislation would require any new state employees after July 1, 2027 to calculate their pensions differently. It would also require employees to contribute seven percent of their salary and wouldn’t allow overtime to be calculated as part of pension payments.