Catholic Writers Respond to Janus v. AFSCME

BONUS CONTENT: Where’s Mark Janus Now?

This June the Supreme Court dealt unions a severe blow in 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME, making the entire public sector “right-to-work.” The decision that Illinois social worker Mark Janus had a “right” to be a free rider, enjoying the wages and benefits of a union contract without paying any dues or fees to the union that bargained them, had been opposed by the USCCB and inspired much reflection in the Catholic press in the month the followed.

Among the best contributions came courtesy of Professor Joe McCartin, who heads Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor (and serves on the board of the Catholic Labor Network). In his Commonweal article “Labor’s Existential Crisis” he explains why “like our forebears in the era of Rerum Novarum, we now face the challenge of articulating principles and devising practical mechanisms that can build a more humane and democratic world.”

Under the provisions of the Janus decision, governments must assume that their employees prefer to be free riders unless they indicate otherwise… The devastating effects of the decision are already being felt. Public-employee unions are now cutting their budgets, laying off staff, and putting once robust campaigns like the fast-food workers’ Fight for $15 on hold. The nation’s largest union, the National Education Association (NEA), which represents more than three million teachers, estimates that it will lose 370,000 members over the next two years. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) also expect significant membership losses…

Interestingly, these unions, through trial and error, are landing on an approach with strong echoes in Catholic Social Teaching. They are trying to add the common good to their list of bargaining demands.

Realizing that they must revitalize bargaining in response to these new conditions, public-sector unions began to experiment with new approaches in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Since 2012, teachers’ unions affiliated with the NEA and the AFT in Chicago, St. Paul, and Seattle, and municipal workers affiliated with the SEIU and AFSCME in San Diego and Los Angeles, have sought to expand the ranks of those who participate in collective bargaining, open up its processes, and broaden its purposes. They have invited community allies to help craft bargaining demands that advance shared goals, then insisted that these allies get a seat at the bargaining table…. To survive, unions know they must enlist allies and cultivate public support by defending the common good.

McCartin is optimistic about the prospects of such “Bargaining for the Common Good.”

Meanwhile, in the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters greeted the decision with the observation that “the badly named “right-to-work” laws have been made universal within the United States…. Freeloaders and libertarians are thrilled.” Ken Briggs saw the decision as a defeat for the Catholic notion of solidarity and a win for a Protestant individualist ethic in which “it is up to the person to succeed without a group.”

Where’s Mark Janus?

And what of Mark Janus, the child support specialist at Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services who explained to us that

I went into this line of work because I care about kids. But just because I care about kids doesn’t mean I also want to support a government union. Unfortunately, I have no choice. To keep my job at the state, I have to pay monthly fees to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, a public employee union that claims to “represent” me.

Thanks to Janus v. AFSCME, Mr. Janus no longer had to pay monthly union fees in order to keep his state job. Curiously, Mr. Janus celebrated his victory by promptly resigning from his Child Support Specialist job to work at a free-market think tank.