Will the Janus Supreme Court Decision Affect S.F.?

The Supreme Court made a decision that could result in the vital loss of members and funding in public unions. But will San Francisco feel the effects?

Proactive efforts by San Francisco unions and activists could dodge the loss in funding that will inevitably result from a Supreme Court decision.

On Wednesday, June, 27, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that non-members of unions would not be forced to pay fees because it could potentially violate their First Amendment rights.

Mark Janus, a child-support specialist working for the state of Illinois, argued that the labor union his fees went to funded ideals he did not agree with. The Supreme Court found the use of these fees as a violation of Janus’ First Amendment right.

Non-members paying a union fee may seem unfair, but many of them still reap the benefits of policies that unions bargain on their behalf. This is why the Supreme Court previously ruled in Abood vs Detroit Bd. of Ed that unions could require collective bargaining fees from workers, even if they’re not official members.

But the Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday could cause unions to lose money since non-members are no longer required to pay fees. Unions also worry members may leave in order to stop paying these fees, since now it is legal to do so.

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan noted the decision broke the Abood precedent which protected labor unions for over 40 years and claimed it would harm relationships between workers and their employers.

“For over 40 years, Abood struck a stable balance between public employees’ First Amendment rights and government entities’ interests,” Kagan said. “Across the country, the relationships of public employees and employers will alter in both predictable and wholly unexpected ways. There are no special justifications for reversing Abood.  

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, defended the decision to overturn it, citing faults the majority found in the precedent.

“No reliance interests on the part of public-sector unions are sufficient to justify the perpetuation of the free speech violations that Abood has countenanced for the past 41 years,” Alito said. “Abood is therefore overruled.”

With tens of unions operating in the city, San Franciscans sprung into action quickly after the decision was announced.

The Examiner reported that nurses from the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United already rallied and protested the ruling at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center this morning.  

SEIU Local 1021 member Sasha Cutler, a 30-year nurse at San Francisco General Hospital, said, “Keeping our union strong means we can fight to improve standards and maintain staffing, all critical to patient care.”

Additionally, UNITE! Here Local 2 will stage a march today at 4 p.m. in Union Square to denounce the decision and bring light to hotel worker rights.

Hotel workers demand fair contracts,” stated the announcement. “Public Sector workers stand together to say they will stay #unionstrong in the face of corporate-backed Janus case.”

Various California politicians condemned the result as well, including U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

Mayor-Elect London Breed posted on social media, telling her followers that she would not have been successful without the work of the labor movement.

The #SCOTUS decision in Janus is another attack on working people all across our country. No court case will divide us,” Breed said. “Here in San Francisco, we will continue to fight for strong unions and the rights of workers.”

But what does the decision mean for the city and its public-sector unions?

According to the New York Times, the possibility of unions’ loss in the Janus v. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees case caused many unions to act proactively, addressing the needs of current members and redoubling campaigning efforts to attract new ones. In some cases, these strategies canceled out the loss of members and removal of non-member dues.  

San Francisco appeared to be ahead of the game, too.

Joseph Bryant, a member of SEIU 1021 in San Francisco, confirmed that his union has been preparing for a decision back since Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a similar union labor case sent to the Supreme Court that ended in a deadlock. He expects efforts to educate and engage members to overcome member loss and a decrease in funds.

“We have been for the last couple years talking to members about what’s coming down the pike and the potential impacts,” Bryant said. “We’re confident that it will that our membership will stay with the union, stay by the union.”

Additionally, California passed an Assembly bill last year to skirt around the impacts of this decision. The bill states that public employers must give unions all the contact information of new hires, so they can try to recruit them and boost membership.  

Despite the safety-nets some organizations and legislators doled out, Bryant emphasized the need to continue looking for long-term solutions.

“Just to reiterate the fact that this is a part of a broader agenda,” Bryant said. “Attacks on so many of our different rights, civil, human and now worker rights, they’re all interconnected. We as communities need to continue to resist.”

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