LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Supreme Court decision deals a blow to NJ public worker unions

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

Wednesday’s 5-4 decision is seen as a blow to public workers unions.

The case involves a man named Mark Janus. He works for the Department of Healthcare and Family Services in Illinois. Janus refused to pay dues to the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, known as AFSCME.

He didn’t agree with the union’s political activities and felt that he shouldn’t be compelled to help pay for them with union dues. AFSCME argued that its work benefited nonunion employees, also, and that they should pay for the union representation.

Wednesday, the court agreed with Janus, ruling that nonunion workers can’t be forced to pay fees to public sector unions. The reaction? What you might expect from labor.

“It’s a terrible decision and it’s a direct attack on the middle class and it’s very, very bad, so I don’t want to understate how terrible the decision is. Having said that, we will not only survive this decision, but we will continue to grow. We will continue to fight back. We’ll continue to stand up and fight for the middle class and for working people all over this country and the world and no judge is going to change that,” said Hetty Rosenstein, New Jersey state director for the Communications Workers of America, the state’s largest public worker’s union.

The CWA has over 50,000 public employees as members. Up to now, their nonunion co-workers have had to pay up to 85 percent of membership dues. It’s made it possible for unions like the CWA and the New Jersey Education Association to raise millions of dollars. And when it comes to politics, money is speech, and their voices have been loud. Both supported Gov. Phil Murphy, who Wednesday reiterated his support for organized labor.

“Brothers and sisters of organized labor, this is a dark day given the Supreme Court decision. By the way, they’re two for two this week because of the ban on Muslim countries yesterday. It was another dark day,” Murphy said. “This decision is an impediment to organize and undermines the ability to organize, which is at the very core, frankly, of the middle class notion and of the American dream and of this state, a state that was built on the back of union labor and will be rebuilt on the back of union labor. It’s a tough day.”

So, is it, as some have predicted, the end of public sector unions?

It’s a little early to say that, but Rutgers labor expert Michael Merrill says the decision does change the political paradigm for the state’s public worker unions.

“The short-run effect will be disruption from people trying to figure out how to replace long-established practice and policy for agency fee collection with new mechanisms,” Merrill said. “The second effect will be a catalyst. It will be a wake-up call to public unions and to public employees that they can no longer take their union rights for granted. That the Supreme Court has ruled their practices unconstitutional.”

The president, whose Supreme Court appointee helped get the fifth vote needed, tweeted about the decision today.

“Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!” Trump tweeted.

Former Gov. Chris Christie, who faced off with the NJEA, CWA, and really almost all the public sector unions, called it a great day for free speech rights of government workers.

“No mandatory dues for teachers, police officers or state workers,” he tweeted. “Freedom of choice! Thank you Justice Alito.”

As you can see, reactions have been pretty much along party lines. And with the president now set to have another Supreme Court appointment, most observers expect the court to shift even further to the right, putting pressure on progressives to gear up for midterm elections next year and giving the right an impetus to fill the seat before then.

Get ready for a contentious and divisive next few months ahead.