On February 26, the Supreme Court heard the Janus vs. AFSCME case. Mark Janus sued AFSCME claiming that unions do not represent his political interests and that payment of Fair Share dues is a violation of free speech. The case is supported by the National Right to Work Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center and billionaires like Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. The ruling would give a decisive blow to public-sector unions. Yet, the case is galvanizing unions to organize and re-examine how they can make unions even more relevant to workers. A post-Janus world could negatively impact students and the community. The following is an interview by Dr. Jesú Estrada with Tony Johnston, president of the Cook County College Teachers Union (CCCTU), about Janus. In Chicago and suburban community colleges, the CCCTU has guaranteed decent wages and benefits for faculty, professionals, adjuncts, and para-professionals alike and excellent education for students.
Q. Give us a little background on Janus. Who is behind this attack on public-sector unions?
A. Right-wing conservative groups have funded the Right to Freeload legislation and litigation. This article gives a very concise explanation of the forces behind Janus: inthesetimes.com/features/janus_supreme_court_unions_investigation.html
Q. What is the state of Janus given the Supreme Court hearing?
A. As has been predicted, it looks certain that the Supreme Court will vote to overturn the Abood decision which will make fair share dues deduction unconstitutional. This ruling will allow any union member from public-sector unions to opt out of membership and dues deduction at any time.
Q. How should unions respond to these attacks on public-sector workers?
A. This decision gives us an opportunity to have a real conversation with our members on the real benefits of being in a union.
Q. Why should non-union members care about these attacks?
A. There is a lot of data which shows that benefits and improvements won by unions translate into increases in salaries and benefits for non-union workers. Also, this challenge provides us in the labor movement an opportunity to reach out to workers who are not unionized and organize them.
Q. A lot of organizers have been addressing the issue of unity. How can unions unite with other social movements?
A. It is vital that unions reach out to community-based organizations and civic groups such as Black Lives Matter so that people see unions as advocating not just for salaries and working conditions, but for issues that have a real impact on the communities that we serve.
Q. Do you have any final thoughts regarding Janus?
A. Janus is a call to arms for unions. It has forced us to get back to our real job of improving the lives of our members and showing them that our actions in the workplace will lead to a more equal and just society.