Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, told the Chicago Sun-Times if now former state worker Mark Janus and his allies thought “this decision would lead to seriously damaging public-sector unions, that doesn’t seem to have occurred.”
WASHINGTON — On June 27, 2018, the Supreme Court delivered what seemed a potential death knell to public-sector unions in the landmark Illinois Janus v AFSCME Council 31 case.
A year later, the government worker unions in Illinois are doing OK.
With the election in November of the Democratic pro-labor Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who trounced the anti-government union, former GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, public-sector unions have enhanced clout. Union membership has ticked up. The Janus decision is responsible for union revenue loss but not enough to so far make a dramatic difference.
Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, told the Chicago Sun-Times if now former state worker Mark Janus and his allies thought that in Illinois, “this decision would lead to seriously damaging public-sector unions, that doesn’t seem to have occurred.”
In a 5-4 decision — with the conservative justices prevailing over the liberals — the court said under First Amendment protections, public workers who do not want to join a union —but are still represented by a union — do not have to pay a fee for the coverage.
Rauner started the case on Feb. 9, 2015, shortly after taking office. One of his crusades was weakening the power of the Democratic-allied public-sector unions in Illinois.
After a lower court ruled Rauner did not have standing, the lawsuit was amended.
Janus, who was a child support specialist in the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services who lives in Springfield, became the plaintiff.
Janus’ legal team was led by The Liberty Justice Center, affiliated with the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative activist organization, partnering with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Virginia.
Shortly after the ruling, Janus, 66, quit his state of Illinois job and today works for The Liberty Justice Center as a roving ambassador to spread the word to workers about “Janus Rights.”
He was in Washington earlier this month to mark the one-year anniversary. “Because of the decision, you do not have to be a member of a union in order to work in the public sector,” Janus said. Government workers “have the freedom to make their own choice. My job is just to go out and let these people know they do have a choice,” he said.
Bruno, who has been studying the impact of the Janus ruling, said, on the whole in Illinois, there has only been a “small drop” in total revenues to the labor organizations because of the loss of fees from non-union member workers.
The unions “lost some of those fee payers but they’ve also converted a number of those fee payers into members and there hasn’t been an exodus of any significance of members,” Bruno said.
The unions don’t make public precise numbers regarding revenues from dues and fee payers pre- and post-Janus.
Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, told the Sun-Times, in the wake of Janus, “We’ve weathered it very well actually, and much better than anybody — and probably including me — actually anticipated that we would.”
AFSCME Council 31 has about 55,000 members. The Janus decision ended the flow of fees from about 6,000 fee payers. Balancing this revenue loss: Since April 2019, the union added 1,100 dues-paying members with about 800 more memberships pending.
The Chicago Teachers Union added members in the wake of the Janus decision, from 24,361 to 24,991. The CTU estimated fee payers totaled only a few hundred. “We’ve held our own and raised the number of full dues-paying members,” said CTU communications director Chris Geovanis.
SEIU Local 73 has added about 2,000 members since last spring. Current membership is at 27,000. There were about 5,000 fee payers before Janus.
SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer said, Janus “was an attempt by anti-worker extremists to weaken unions, but in the case of SEIU Local 73, it didn’t work. In response to the extremist attacks on collective bargaining, members mobilized like never before.”
Jen Hill, the media director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said “less than one percent of our membership chose to opt out. But overall, we’ve gained, thanks to organizing new groups and engaging with those who were previously “fair share.”
The fight is not over.
The Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation filed a Janus “follow-up” lawsuit in federal court in Chicago on May 1 against AFSCME Council 31. Seeking to be a class action, a judge is being asked to order a refund of fees paid from May 1, 2017, to June 27, 2018, plus interest.
Said Patrick Hughes, the Liberty Justice Center president, “We are committed to the full implementation of the Janus decision and will continue to litigate here in Illinois and across the country.”
DISCLOSURE: Some labor organizations have ownership stakes in Sun-Times Media, including the Chicago Federation of Labor; Operating Engineers Local 150; SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana and SEIU Local 1.
Chicago Sun Times
Article Photo: Mark Janus speaks as the Supreme Court hears a major challenge to union membership in Janus v. AFSCME. Alex Wong/Getty Images file photo