5-4 court majority ignores appeals from USCCB, unions in Janus v AFSCME
In a dramatic decision announced June 27, a narrow supreme court majority overturned decades of law and found that workers represented by public sector unions have a new constitutional right – the right not to pay union dues or fees. In the case, an Illinois state employee named Mark Janus – with deep-pocketed supporters from the Koch network and elsewhere – argued that paying a fee to cover the union’s costs for bargaining and grievance handling abridged his freedom of speech. The nation’s labor unions in turn argued that it was unfair for dues-paying members of the union to bear all the costs while Janus and like-minded “free riders” got union-negotiated raises and benefits for nothing.
The USCCB filed an important amicus brief urging the Court to reject Janus’s request, pointing out that Catholic social teaching favored solidarity and the common good and had long supported labor unions as essential in the struggle for social justice [Laborem Exercens, 20]. The brief also pointedly noted that, just as in Roe v. Wade, a decision for Janus would be declaring Catholic teaching unconstitutional. Most of the Catholic justices were unimpressed: of the five, only Justice Sotomayor sided with the union, while Kennedy, Thomas, Alito and Chief Justice Roberts supported Janus.
Bishop Frank DeWane of Venice, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, was saddened by the Court’s move, observing:
It is disappointing that today’s Supreme Court ruling renders the long-held view of so many bishops constitutionally out-of-bounds, and threatens to ‘limit the freedom or negotiating capacity of labor unions.’ [Caritas in Veritate, no. 25]. By reading the First Amendment to invalidate agency fee provisions in public-sector collective bargaining agreements, the Court has determined—nationwide, and almost irrevocably—that all government work places shall be “right-to-work.” Now that such agency fee agreements are outlawed, state and federal legislators should explore alternative means “for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights. [Caritas in Veritate, no.25].”
Speaking for the US labor movement, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka responded:
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, abandons decades of commonsense precedent. In this case, a bare majority of the court, over the vigorous dissent of four justices, has conceded to the dark web of corporations and wealthy donors who wish to take away the freedoms of working people. Until it is overturned, this decision will be a political stain on what is intended to be the most honorable, independent body in the world. But more importantly, it will further empower the corporate elites in their efforts to thwart the aspirations of millions of working people standing together for a better life.
For more Catholic coverage, see High court rules against unions in dues case; USCCB backed labor by Mark Pattison of the Catholic News Service, and Janus decision was a blow, but workers point the way forward by Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter.