Attacking Unions by Going after Members and Money Continues Everywhere

Union activists and supporters rally against the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME case.
(Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

New Orleans       Back in the United States one of the first articles I had to read in detail on my return focused on the efforts of the right wing legal shops to sue big public employee unions in Washington, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and California for repayment of agency fees accepted from nonmembers for servicing and bargaining prior to the Supreme Court’s rejection of this forty-one years long standard in the Janus v. AFSCME case.  Local 1000 SEIU composed of almost 100,000 state employees was sued for $100 million alone.

Is this really about the money or just more intimidation as part of the war on the poor and working people?

The US Constitution is clear.  There can be no ex post facto laws, meaning that no one can be liable for behavior that was legal prior to the passage of a new law or court decision.  Federal courts in fact have continued to hold the line on this at the lower level of the courts.  Reimbursement legal challenges in Illinois and other states on the Harris decision that attacked fees being collected from home health care workers in many states have all failed and in most cases were thrown out of court for these reasons.  Some legal experts are worried that the legal strategy from conservatives is to get the case to the determinedly anti-union majority in the Supreme Court by hook-or-crook.  Some lawyers are warning that the collateral damage of opening this window into previous liability could snare a lot of big companies which might be the only thing that protects unions.  Realistically, this is all about trying to intimidate unions and force them to run up their legal bills to the money doesn’t benefit their members in other ways.

In Manchester, England, I talked at length to an organizer who was working as part of a  team with the national employees’ union to get turnout on a strike vote of over 50% of all eligible employees in the bargaining unit, as opposed to just winning a majority of those that vote.  This rule was deliberately imposed as an obstacle for the unions and to some degree it has worked, although after nine years of 1% raises, the organizers are hoping this is the year they send a message.

Interestingly, in Birmingham, England, Ravi Subramanian, the regional director for Unison in the West Midlands, raised this very issue as an anti-union measure that had actually made his union branches stronger.  Faced with the 50% barrier in almost all the votes since it’s imposition, the union has prevailed.  Surprising the crowd, Brother Ravi boasted that the government could raise the bar to 70, 80, even 90%, and he was convinced workers would smash every barrier, and it would build the union even stronger.

He’s not asking for it, mind you, but he’s ready for whatever they throw at the union.  Good advice for organizers and union leaders everywhere.

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