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Workers rally as Supreme Court weighs union dues

Nearly 100 teachers, nurses, transit workers and politicians rallied at San Francisco City Hall Monday in response to a U.S. Supreme Court case that could decrease funding and participation in unions.

The court heard arguments today in the case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council (AFSCME), in which the plaintiffs argue that non-union workers should not have to pay “fair-share” union fees. The U.S. Supreme Court set that precedent 40 years ago.

In California, all public sector employees are required to join unions, pay a certain portion of union dues, or determine their involvement through a union security agreement. Twenty-seven other states are considered “right to work” employers, and do not mandate union participation.

During Monday’s rally, participants held signs that said, “Right to work means a right to starve!” They said employees universally benefit from labor activists’ efforts to secure fair pay, health care, gender equality and humane working conditions in the public sector.

Dozens of teachers, nurses and city officials rallied outside of City Hall on February 26, 2018, in San Francisco, Calif. Jerold Chinn/SFBay

Union leaders said they support both union and non-union members indiscriminately, and losing funding could significantly weaken their ability to collectively bargain.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors president London Breed said, explaining that her own education was funded by union work:

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the labor movement.”

Many middle-class employees view the case as pitting corporate interests against public servants, and Supervisor Jane Kim called the proceeding a “symbol of utmost greed and selfishness.”

Mayor Mark Farrell also denounced the case, saying:

“… we are a union town and we will fight this case until the bitter end.”

Activists noted the protection that unions have offered immigrants, women, and people of color, sparking a chant to remove Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from San Francisco.

Dozens of teachers, nurses and city officials rallied outside of City Hall on February 26, 2018, in San Francisco, Calif. Jerold Chinn/SFBay

Joseph Bryant, the vice president of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 in San Francisco, said many people take for granted the work of unions and labor rights activists. He cited San Francisco’s minimum wage increase of 2014 as a victory for both union and non-union workers.

If plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case are successful, Bryant said unions will have to counter the setback by pushing for greater union membership. Their main challenges is to counter a stigma against unions as allegedly being trouble-making and divisive, Bryant said.

Non-union workers do not have to pay dues toward any political union action after a court’s decision in 2012, but Janus v. AFSCME could remove the requirement for any contribution, political or not.

City officials spoke out overwhelmingly against the case, and Supervisor Hilary Ronen announced that she would introduce a resolution during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting in support of union workers.

Before she was a supervisor, Ronen said she was a lawyer for non-union immigrant workers.

The resolution says Janus v. AFSCME denies freedoms for public workers and the city should proclaim its support for union workers by guiding them through the potential aftermath of the court’s decision.

Ronen said:

“No matter what happens with this Janus decision … we have power right here in San Francisco to keep our unions strong. … We are not powerless.”

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