Local union leaders say Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision in the Janus case delivered a huge blow, potentially risking their bargaining power.
By a vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Illinois state government worker Mark Janus, who did not wish to participate in a labor union. The ruling reverses a 41-year precedent of allowing states to require public employees to pay union dues even if they are not union members. It was early morning news on the West Coast, and the reaction from Democratic politicians and union members was swift.
Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, condemned the decision. The Washington Education Association, the state teachers’ union, called it an effort by “extremist billionaires and corporate interests” to hurt “the freedoms of working-class people.” And in a joint statement, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the ruling would compromise “the ability of law enforcement, sanitation workers, educators and other public employees to collectively organize.”
“The reality is that all workers benefit from strong unions and their bargaining activities,” they wrote. “Washington has been and will remain a state that believes in and supports the rights of all workers to organize, in both the public and private sector.”
In Vancouver and around the state, union members rallied to protest the decision. Dozens of people gathered at the intersection of East Mill Plain and Fort Vancouver Way around lunchtime, waving signs reading “Union Strong” and waving at motorists who honked their horns in support.
The word of the day from union members? Education. Multiple representatives said their next steps in the months to come will be to inform their fellow employees of the rights and benefits their union representation guarantees them.
Rick Wilson, executive director of the Vancouver Education Association, noted that the teachers union and others are in the midst of heated negotiations over salary increases. In light of that, the union has been issuing regular newsletters, surveying members and traveling from campus to campus to discuss bargaining. Wilson hopes members recognize the union is “a positive presence” in their lives. The union has about 1,650 members.
“It’s a significant decision,” Wilson said. “It’s not going to change what we’re going to try to do for our members, which is be a strong advocate for them.”
Shannon Stull is the business manager of Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 335. That union represents some Clark County Public Health employees. Stull fears Wednesday’s decision has the potential to sap the union’s funds and thus undercut the union’s ability to protect its members.
“I won’t be able to fully represent them as best I can if it goes into legal battles,” he said.
State Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, and a member of the Washington Education Association, said the decision is going to pose a challenge for public-sector unions trying to retain members. The next step is to ensure union members have all the information they need about what bargaining services unions provide before they decide to opt out, she said.
“A lot of people working in a school setting don’t necessarily recognize what their union does for them until they need them,” she said.
Stonier has received significant support from the Washington Education Association’s political action committee, with that arm of the union contributing $428,299.34 of in-kind support for her.
State Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, meanwhile, lauded the Janus decision. Prior to her election, Kraft worked at the Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based conservative think tank that works to curb the influence of public-sector unions.
“This an important victory for public employees!” she wrote on her Facebook page. “Your freedom, your voice, the power to choose and most of all your First Amendment Rights have just been reinstated.”