Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Lynell Brown, a mental health associate at Capitol Region Mental Health and member of SEIU Local 1199 (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — (Updated 4:30 p.m.) It was not unexpected, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME found government unions can’t force non-members to pay “agency fees” and it’s being framed by those who support the ruling as a blow to public sector unions.

But public sector unions in Connecticut have been preparing for the decision by making their case to their employees to join the union and blunt any deleterious impact.

In Connecticut, there are 6,926 public employees who pay “agency fees” but aren’t union members, according to the state Comptroller’s office. There are about 44,028 unionized employees in state government. Agency fees are less than what union members pay as dues.

AFSCME Council 4 Executive Director Jody Barr said that when he was the head of AFSCME Local 2836 representing administrative faculty at the four state universities, he was able to have conversations with employees that led to them signing a card.

He said after many of those conversations, which were usually one-on-one, the 800 employees in that bargaining group saw the benefit of joining a union and paying dues.

But it’s not hard to see that public sector unions, which are not as abundant as they’ve been in the past, have an uphill fight.

About 34 percent of government workers across the nation are unionized, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In the private sector it’s about 6.5 percent.

“Today’s ruling is a blow to the principles of collective bargaining — but more worrisome, it is a blow to the ability of unions to effectively represent the interests of the workers they are charged with defending,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said. “It is another troubling milestone in a long-term effort to diminish the efficacy of organized labor groups — and by extension working families. It is no coincidence that as union membership has declined, income inequality has drastically increased, and today’s Supreme Court decision will only exacerbate that trend.”

For 41 years before today,  Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, had dominated on the issue.

That decision found that the non-paying members should pay fees because they benefited from the collective bargaining agreement. But the court found in its decision Wednesday that the state’s extraction of agency fees from non-consenting public sector employees violates the First Amendment. They felt Abood erred in concluding otherwise.

Labor and their supporters rallied outside the Connecticut Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon.

“The billionaires and corporate CEOs who supported the Janus case are attempting to divide working people and limit our power in numbers,” AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier said. “They know that unions give workers a powerful voice in speaking up for themselves, their families, and their communities.”

D.U.E. Justice, which is a coalition of over 30 organizations including community groups, women’s and civil rights organizations, faith, environment, labor, and citizen action groups, believes the decision is “a gift from Donald Trump to billionaire right-wing friends like the Koch Brothers.”

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Lori Pellettier, president of Connecticut’s AFL-CIO (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

It said that they believe it will help unite a majority of workers to fight back.

“We will be unrelenting in our work to make sure that government of, by, and for the people becomes once again the law of the land,” the coalition said.

Union employees like CSEA President Stephen Anderson said the “important work performed by public sector workers keeps our state moving. Our work ensures that special needs kids get a quality education, that our communities and roads are safe, and that our air and water are clean to breathe and drink.”

The idea that unions are suddenly unnecessary was challenged by the group.

“The idea that there are adequate labor laws, and therefore unions are not necessary, is false,” Cynthia Ross-Zweig, a para-educator in the New Fairfield School District, said. “Most paras are women who took the position to help fill an important need in our communities, but earn a wage that is below the federal poverty level, and barely above the minimum wage. Those paras who are fortunate enough to have a union are doing a little bit better than our non-union sisters.”

She said without unions the “least paid among us pay the greatest price; unfair wages, poor benefits, all while management increases their salaries.”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to applaud Wednesday’s ruling.

He tweeted, “Supreme Court rules in favor of non-union workers who are now, as an example, able to support a candidate of his or her choice without having those who control the union deciding for them. Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!”

Outside the Connecticut Supreme Court, Wednesday Pelletier said that workers choose to belong to unions even in right-to-work states.

“In right-to-work states, in the federal government they still have 90 percent and above,” union membership, Pelletier said.

She said 99 percent of postal workers belong to the union.

She said members see the benefit of the unions. She said the only change brought by the decision will be an outside group trying to get employees to stop paying their dues.

She said it’s like having a lawyer on retainer for years and the court rules they still have to represent me, but I don’t have to pay them a retainer.

“It’s just trying to make it harder for workers to have a voice,” she added.

Labor rallies in response to Janus decision

Labor rallies at CT Supreme Court in response to the US Supreme Court’s decision in Janus

Posted by on Wednesday, June 27, 2018