By the time this newspaper reaches members, the Supreme Court will have likely issued a decision in the case Janus v. AFSCME, and most observers expect that the five-justice conservative majority will overturn a four-decade precedent and rule that public-sector unions may no longer collect agency shop fees.
The impact of such a decision cannot be understated: non-members in a bargaining unit will no longer pay the union that represents them at the bargaining table and in legislative campaigns for public funding. Dozens of cases like Janus have moved through the court system, all backed by right-wing and anti-union groups, with the intention of crippling unions’ financial power and undermining their abilities to organize workers, defend government services from privatization and negotiate for good wages and healthcare benefits.
The PSC is well prepared for such a decision. Together with union staff, rank-and-file members have mobilized on all campuses to get members to sign re-commitment cards and to get non-members to sign, solidifying their place in the union. PSC is in a strong position – around 95 percent of full-time faculty and staff members are members. Some campuses – such as LaGuardia Community College, York College and Bronx Community College – have a 100 percent membership rate among full-time faculty. Members across the university are building department rep systems to continue this constant, on-the-ground organizing.
But that is no reason to rest, because if the expected decision comes down from the court, the PSC organizing model will be forever changed. The union will be in constant organizing mode. It will be the duty of organizers, chapter chairs and rank-and-file members in the days, months and years ahead to build networks on their campuses to be constantly meeting members – old and new – and to build power by making a strong union presence at each campus. As PSC members make clear to CUNY faculty and staff why a strong union is necessary for maintaining adequate pay and benefits, the PSC will not only survive in this post-Janus environment, it will indeed thrive.
It is, of course, possible that the court may not rule against agency shop fees. However, while that might be cause for a collective sigh of relief among public-sector unions, the fight against this so-called “right-to-work” movement will continue.
THE RIGHT’S AGENDA
There are several other lawsuits in federal courts targeting the agency shop fee system. Some anti-union groups have pushed a “right-to-work” law – similar to the kinds of legislation nearly half the states have enacted – at the national level. No matter what, the far-right’s thirst to crush organized labor will continue, and workers must organize in response.
Janus is sparking a new kind of grassroots organizing and mobilizing that will be necessary for the labor movement.