Local unions experiencing effects of Supreme Court’s Janus decision

July 9, 2018

DeKALB – Laura Harris, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1890, said she is starting to experience the effects of Supreme Court’s Janus vs. AFSCME ruling.

The high court ruled June 27 to overturn a 1977 Supreme Court ruling, which allowed unions to collect fees from non-members to cover the costs of the union’s collective bargaining practices, also known as “fair share fees,” which do not go toward political candidates. Illinois is one of 22 states that had allowed this.

Unions have defended the collection of these fees by arguing that nonunion workers still take advantage of better wages or benefits negotiated by the union on workers’ behalf. However, now that nonmembers won’t be on the hook, unions are beginning to hear from employees wishing to opt out of these fee obligations.

Harris, whose union includes about 600 Northern Illinois University administrative and clerical employees, said it has been very disheartening to hear members of her union and

the community talk to her about opting out.

“I feel that people that do opt out don’t fully understand what a union has done and what things have been put in place because of the union,” Harris said. “People think [benefits] are just because of laws or because of their employer, but that’s not always the case.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner, who faces billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker in the November general election, filed the initial lawsuit challenging the fees shortly after taking office in 2015. He traveled to Washington, D.C., in anticipation of the decision, which he called a “historic victory.”

The Supreme Court’s decision is expected to affect millions of government workers.

Harris said one of the expenses union dues cover is legal representation, something Local 1890 required during its more than two-year fight over its first collective bargaining agreement with NIU.

When NIU increased the costs of employee parking fees in 2016 before that matter was fully negotiated

with Local 1890, union officials demanded that fees be restored to their original cost until an agreement was reached and that union members be reimbursed.

This impasse ultimately led the union to file an unlawful labor practice charge against NIU for the $19 cost increase.

The case made it to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, which in September ruled that NIU had violated state statutes by increasing parking fees for employees before that matter had been negotiated to agreement with the union.

After reviewing the situation, the board ordered NIU to rescind the parking fee changes for union members and pay back the increased parking amount, plus 7 percent interest.

Although this case was a matter of nickels and dimes compared with other situations that required legal counsel, such as negotiations over health care, Harris said employers will continue to get away with actions such as this if unions don’t have the same contributions toward legal services.

“If unions don’t have the dues to pay lawyers to defend them, cases will never be brought up,” Harris said.

AFSCME Council 31 spokeswoman Sara Dorner said the Janus case is a thinly veiled attempt to erode the rights of working people by draining union funds.

“While the public focus on this case has been politics, it should be recognized that without adequate funds, the union’s ability to represent their membership is at risk of being diminished,” Dorner said. “If there is no money to pay for staff, representatives, attorneys, legal fees and arbitrations, the union’s means of administering and enforcing a collective bargaining agreement is reduced.”

Harris said for her union’s future, it will be important to increase communication and get the word out about the effects of this Supreme Court decision.

“People need to be involved and are going to have to step up to help make that change,” Harris said.