Supreme Court could cripple public unions in run-up to 2018 midterms

“The Supreme Court will hear arguments Monday in a case that could shrink government unions and their campaign war chests by as much as two thirds, with potentially devastating consequences for the Democratic Party in a competitive election cycle,”

“The case, Janus v. AFSCME, challenges the money that public unions representing teachers, firefighters, nurses and other government employees collect from non-members to cover their share of collective bargaining costs. Democratic candidates and causes rely on these unions for more than $100 million in contributions every election cycle, and for armies of workers dispatched to staff phone banks and canvass neighborhoods across the country.”

he facts of the case are near-identical to those in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, on which the high court deadlocked in 2016, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch is widely expected to give plaintiffs the fifth vote they need to outlaw the non-member fees.

That would be a serious blow to Democrats in the midterm election campaign. Government unions account for about 6 percent of the money spent on Democratic candidates in federal elections — and that doesn’t include significant in-kind contributions like phone banks and canvassing.

Unions “provide enormous resources to candidates who support workers, which tend to mostly be Democrats,” said Steve Rosenthal, a former political director of the AFL-CIO and Democratic Party strategist. The case, he said, is aimed largely at “limiting Democrats’ ability to win.”

As was true with FriedrichsJanus is in large part bankrolled by the conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which in 2016 (the most recent year for which data are available) donated $100,000 to The National Right to Work Foundation and $150,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute. Both groups are representing Janus through their legal arms. Donors Trust and Donors Capital —two funds with links to the Koch brothers — gave $84,000 to the National Right to Work Foundation and $76,500 to the Illinois Policy Institute in 2015, the last year for which data are available.

“If you look at the briefs they filed, it’s from the same old crony cabal, the same right-wing think tanks,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders told reporters in Washington.

In targeting public-sector unions, Janus is aiming at the only part of the labor movement that’s thrived in recent decades. Public sector union membership is five times greater than private sector union membership, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers. A union worker today is more likely to be a teacher or a child support specialist than a miner or a longshoreman.

Union leaders say they anticipate a post-decision campaign from anti-union groups to persuade workers to drop memberships. Survey data shows that some 24 percent of unionized government employees don’t believe workers need strong unions.

(Excerpted from Politico 2/25/18)