NLG Condemns Supreme Court’s Attack on Workers’ Rights in Janus Decision


June 28, 2018

Contact: K. Dean Hubbard, Jr., NLG Labor and Employment Committee Chair,

With its Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council) decision, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has overturned a 40-year-old precedent that allows public sector unions, like private sector unions, to charge non-members—who they are required by law to represent—a fee for that representation.

The core of the Court’s naked power grab on behalf of the far right in Janus is an argument that “compelling a person to subsidize the speech of other private speakers” violates the First Amendment. But that’s not what this case is about. It’s about destroying unions that represent public sector workers, such as librarians, firefighters and teachers.   Unions protect the free speech rights of public sector workers by providing them a collective voice that counterbalances the power of the government. The Janus case is about erasing that collective voice and power so governments can comfortably represent the interests of the rich and powerful, and ignore, abuse, and exploit the rest of us.

Public sector unions are on the right wing hit list because they have remained strong in the face of decades of attacks, so they have won vital victories not only by bargaining for the people they represent, but by fighting for policies that benefit all people. Public sector unions are one of the only remaining institutional bulwarks in a number of states against a complete takeover by the forces of oligarchy led by ALEC, funded by the Koch Brothers and others. The Janus majority’s claim that destroying the collective power and voice of public workers to negotiate with their boss is about protecting their free speech is about as Orwellian as it gets.

Janus does not signal the end of public sector unions—but it does require an effective, concerted and strategic response, not just from unions but from all people who do not want to see democracy lost for good. Conservatives see Janus as another step in a long-term, nationwide power grab that continues to dismantle our democracy. Unions are a strong voice for progressive government that represents the interests of everyday people, and corporate interests will now have nearly unobstructed use of government. At its heart, opposing these efforts is not just about solidarity with union workers. It is about the survival of democracy and all of our human rights, in the same way that the civil rights and voting rights movements are not just about the rights of people of color, that immigrant rights struggles are not just about protecting immigrant families. Once again, we are at a defining moment in our history where we are being shown that we as a nation cannot be free if any of our people are not free.

The National Lawyers Guild, whose membership includes lawyers, legal workers, jailhouse lawyers, and law students, was formed in 1937 as the United States’ first racially-integrated bar association to advocate for the protection of constitutional, human and civil rights.

Photo: “Rally to Save the American Dream” by Fibonacci Blue is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


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