Consequences of Janus v. AFSCME: Devastating for All Women and Across Generations

Last week, the Supreme Court delivered a huge blow to labor unions, which will affect the working conditions for my soon-to-be retired mother and my sister who is a soon-to-be graduate. In a 5-4 decision, the Court decided that working people who enjoy the protections and benefits provided by public sector unions—equal pay, paid parental leave, pay transparency, antidiscrimination protections, and more— do not have to contribute to the cost of securing them.

The Janus decision overturns a more than 40-year-old precedent set in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which held that public sector employees who work in workplaces where they are represented by a union could opt to pay a portion – a “fair share” – of their dues for basic operating expenses of the union and be exempt from paying political activities. Regardless of union membership, public sector unions are legally obligated to equally represent the interests of every employee when it comes to collective bargaining. It is very costly to do this work since the benefits and protections obtained by the union require complex negotiation from skilled advocates. Thus, in Abood, the Court decided and explained that “fair share fees” eliminate any free rider problem since all employees reap the benefits from collective bargaining agreements, whether they are union members or not.  Without these fees, workers can pay nothing and still get the same representation.

But now, unions will lose the revenue provided by the “fair share fees” and they may also lose members. In the wake of the decision, right wing outfits across the country are now mounting an insidious campaign to convince people to give up their union membership

Facing this potential loss of revenue and members, the economic security of 7.2 million public-sector union members is threatened since union membership boosts wages for all workers. These public sector union members make up a third of workers in the public sector, which include government workers such as teachers, police officers, firefighters, postal workers and more.

The Janus case is deeply personal. My mother, a public school ELL (English Language Learners) educator, has been in the United Federation of Teachers for over 30 years. Without the union, she would not have the economic security and health benefits to raise her two daughters as a single-mother, nor would she have been able to redress the racial discrimination she has faced in the workplace. The union has given her an avenue to bring forth workers’ concerns ranging from paid paternal leave and salary increases to pension and retirement requirements.

Public sector union representation is especially important for women. Women, including women of color like my mother, represent the majority of public-sector workers represented by unions. According to the National Women’s Law Center’s, “Public Sector Unions Promote Economic Security and Equality for Women Fact Sheet,” Asian women represent 62% of union-represented Asian public sector workers, Black women — 55.6%, Latina women —50%, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander — 72.2%, and Native women — 64.5%. There is no doubt that the Janus decision will disproportionately harm working women of color and negatively impact their economic security.

Additionally, the advantages of being represented by a union are greater for women than men. Women represented by public sector unions are paid 15% more –$6,500 more annually—than women in public-sector work who are not in a union. Also, the gender wage gap is lower for union-represented public-sector workers. When analyzing the fact that- women are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men-it is critical to note that women represented by unions in the public-sector typically make 83 cents for every dollar, but non-union-represented women in the public sector typically make 79 cents for every dollar. 

Without fair share fees, unions are less able to effectively represent workers who desperately need the policies that my mother has fought for – just to make ends meet.

Not only does the Janus decision affect these 7.2 million workers, but it also threatens  the economic security of future potential public sector union members – millennials—like my sister, who is about to get her Master’s in Speech Pathology. She hopes to become a teacher, and as a future public sector worker who will almost certainly be represented by a union, she is going to have to endure the ramifications from this decision for potentially her entire career. This case adds onto the list of barriers for the next generation of workers and makes it less likely that we can build economically stable lives.

Although the Court continues to side with the wealthy, rigging the economy against working people, and overturning precedent – we can change this. There is too much at stake right now, especially since Trump is going to announce his next Supreme Court nominee next Monday on July 9th. To prevent any more rollbacks on protections that we have fought for so long, URGE your Senators to oppose any Trump Supreme Court nominee who will put our civil rights at risk.