United We Bargain, Divided We Beg

The Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in Janus v. American Federal of State, County, and Municipal Employees (2018) could impact the fight over official time. The issue is state and local government employees having to pay union dues, regardless of membership. This does not directly impact federal collective bargaining, but it still could motivate the enemies of labor in Congress to claim official time is not only bad policy but prima facie unconstitutional. OPM has implied that the costs for union representation goes beyond mere payroll costs and most accounting data does not include the cost of taxpayer funded facilities, equipment and travel costs agencies incur as the result of labor organizations. Congress is working in the name of those who line their pockets with cash, cash, cash. In the words of Gordon Gecko from the Oliver Stone movie Wall Street circa 1987, “Greed is good.”

A divided Supreme Court gave businesses the power to block employees from joining together to file claims for wage theft and other work-related violations, upholding employer-written rules requiring that each case be limited to a single employee. The decision overturns the position of the National Labor Relations Board and resolves the split among federal appeals rulings and gives teeth to employment “yellow dog” contracts drawn up to minimize corporate exposure to public trials and class action suits. The Court has snuffed out employee rights to band together to enforce laws providing for minimum wages and maximum hours, prohibitions against discrimination for race, sex, religion or age and other protections such as wrongful discharge action. Employers aware that employees will be unable to pursue small-value claims when having to proceed one-by-one will see the cost-benefit balance of underpaying workers in favor of shirking their legal obligations.  Divided we beg.

There may be a silver lining to this ominous cloud. The sole remaining entity recognized by the courts who can ban together and collectively bargain is the unions. The Supreme Court’s current conservative majority has handed the unions a golden opportunity to recruit membership.  Freeloading would no longer be an option. We do not require lawyers, doctors, accountants and large corporations to provide services for free. We don’t forbid them from using fees collected for political purpose. Unions could shake off the judicial activism which required them to live up to unreasonably high standards. Open shop employees will realize that being a rat is no longer beneficial to them and, “put their money where their mouths are.”  Non-bargaining employees will realize their only option to protect their rights is to organize. A favorable ruling in Janus would be paramount for a labor Renaissance. A consistent decline in membership would become a thing of the past.  United we bargain; United we prosper.

Chris Pierce