The billionaires and corporations that brought Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 to the Supreme Court expected a flood of workers to leave their unions. They were badly mistaken and sorely disappointed.
Roughly seven times as many public service workers have joined AFSCME than have left since the Janus decision was handed down last summer, resulting in thousands of new members. The wealthy special interests underestimated the unity among working people, especially in public service.
Todd Bennington, a principal planning analyst for Hennepin County human services and member of AFSCME Local 2864 (Council 5), said he was paying fair share fees before Janus but now is a member.
“After the Janus ruling, I got a letter telling me that I didn’t have to pay fair share fees anymore unless I wanted to. That’s when I became a member,” he said. “Being a member is very important to me, particularly in the wake of that decision.”
He said the power of collective action is especially important in the context of attacks against unions.
“Working together, we have a lot more power to effect change in the world and in our own lives,” he said. “Collectively, we’re going to get a lot better outcomes.”
Dave Delrose, a mental health counselor from Joliet, Illinois, and member of AFSCME Local 1028 (Council 31), said the way to fight back against attacks like Janus is to stick together.
“We know that standing together in a strong union is the only way for public service workers to have a strong voice, to protect our pay and benefits, and to speak up for the communities we serve,” said Delrose. “That’s why I’m sticking with my union and why – despite the millions of dollars the corporate anti-worker forces are pouring in to attack us – more people are joining the union every day.”
Anecdotal evidence of union strength and resilience is supported by recent data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, which show that despite attacks like the Janus case, union membership remains steady. Union membership among local government employees even increased slightly in 2018. The numbers reflect a growing trend of workers who know how important joining together in a strong union can be.
While the wave of drops the billionaires were counting on hasn’t appeared, many ongoing legal threats to unions have also stalled. State attorneys general, responsible for enforcing the Janus decision, have issued clear opinions that limit its impact.
Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, for example, issued an opinion stating that apart from the narrow issue of fair share fees, “all other rights and obligations of public sector employees and employers under state law remain the same.” Other advisories came from attorneys general in Maryland, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and more.
The 5-4 ruling in Janus was wrongly decided, and it overturned more than 40 years of established precedent from the Supreme Court. But even as it delivered a blow to the rights of workers to join together in strong unions, the result must be frustrating to the billionaires and special interests who brought the case to the court. Instead of weakening public-sector unions, the Janus case only spurred people working in public service toward even stronger unity.