In a few short weeks on February 26th, the US Supreme Court will hear opening arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a case so important that we want all of our members to know what it’s about and what’s at stake.
Janus v. AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) came about because of an employee by the name of Janus who works at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Human Services. IDHHS is an agency shop, and employees are represented by AFSCME. Janus, who chose not to be an AFSCME union member, must pay an agency fee to the union, and he doesn’t want to. He believes that paying an agency fee to the union is a violation of his First Amendment rights.
First, a few basics: In the public sector, “agency shops” are shops where every employee is represented by a union. Even if the employee is not a union member, s/he must pay an agency fee (equal to union dues) to the union as a condition of employment. The reason, in part, is that the union uses that agency fee to help pay for collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievances – which benefits all employees.
So back to Janus: How could paying a service charge to the union be considered a violation of a person’s First Amendment rights? For Janus, paying that agency fee is like forcing him to subsidize a group that lobbies the government – which he believes violates his First Amendment rights. For Janus, “…agency fees – even if characterized as the costs of contract negotiations – actually finance speech that is intended to influence the government’s personnel policies. Therefore, he contends, requiring him to pay an agency fee is no different from requiring him to subsidize a group that lobbies the government.”
If Janus wins the case, the Supreme Court could essentially find that public-sector “agency shops” are invalid under the First Amendment. Many unions believe that this will have far-reaching negative effects for public-sector and private-sector unions, with members withdrawing their support from the very unions that advocate for and defend them.
If you agree that your rights, as defended by your union, are important to you, please join us:
Saturday, February 24: A Working People’s Day of Action, Washington, DC. Meeting place and time TBD. We’ll send out updates. Check the Local 2 website or visit here in the weeks ahead.
Monday, February 26: Demonstration outside of the Supreme Court on the first day of Janus v. AFSCME arguments at the US Supreme Court, Washington, DC, time TBD. We’ll send out updates. You can also check www.opeiu-local2.org.
OPEIU Local 2 is a labor union supporting over 8,000 professional workers in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia. We represent staff members across a number of sectors, including healthcare, non-profit, and more.