Public sector unions that represent government workers throughout Chicago and Illinois reacted swiftly to the anti-labor ruling in the landmark Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 case, with one Chicago union leader predicting the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision would have little impact on his organization — and the Chicago Teachers Union using it to attack Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The Supreme Court ruled that government workers can’t be forced to contribute “fair share” fees to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining, potentially dealing those unions a serious financial blow. State laws that require workers to pay such fees — including a law in Illinois — violate workers’ First Amendment free-speech rights, the high court ruled.
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey issued a statement after the ruling likening Emanuel to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a driving force behind the Janus case.
“Today we will see neoliberal Democratic Party political bosses like Rahm Emanuel shaking their fist at this decision, acting as if they have not been bipartisan partners in the erosion of workers’ rights, co-conspirators in the austerity movement and willing allies in the theft of job and retirement security,” Sharkey said.
“While today’s attack will hit all working families hard, in Chicago it will disproportionately hurt Black and Latinx households already reeling from the foreclosure crisis, cuts to social services, school closures, unrelenting violence and high unemployment. Rahm has done nothing to address the needs of these constituencies or these critical issues – or at least, nothing good.”
At a news conference Wednesday morning, Sharkey added: “The right wing is attacking unions because of what we do. . . . We will not back down, we will not be intimidated . . . We’re gonna survive this.”
If CTU was hoping to draw Emanuel into a fight over the Janus ruling, Emanuel refused to take the bait.
“I see this as an attack on working families—not on me. I’m not gonna do this,” the mayor said.
Instead, Emanuel stressed his accomplishments with the organized labor community. He talked about the cost-saving contracts and McCormick Place work-rule changes he has negotiated with organized labor and about the millions of dollars the city has saved because of the healthcare reforms he has hammered out in cooperation with union leaders. Although Chicago’s $36 billion pension crisis has not been solved, dedicated funding sources have been identified, “stablilizing” all four city employee pension funds, the mayor said.
“Janus’ entire philosophy — the approach that Gov. Rauner is trying to celebrate — is to literally break somebody before they even get to the table. And that is wrong,” the mayor said.
Chicago firefighter and police unions react to Janus ruling
Jim Tracy, president of the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, said he anticipates that the groundbreaking ruling would have a minimal impact on the union’s membership and bargaining power.
Contracts with Chicago Police officers and firefighters expired on June 30, 2016. The Fraternal Order of Police has complained that contract talks are moving at a snail’s pace, hinting strongly that Mayor Rahm Emanuel may be slow-walking negotiations to get past the 2019 mayoral election.
“Local 2 is very fortunate to have 14 members out of 4,800 that are fair share. I expect those misled individuals to try and pay nothing and reap the rewards of our hard fought battles,” Tracy wrote in a text message to the Sun-Times. “My fears are for our brothers and sisters with AFSCME and SEIU. Many don’t understand how hard their union reps have worked to advance their agenda.”
Tracy was asked to explain why doesn’t anticipate any impact on his membership or bargaining power stemming from the landmark ruling.
He pointed — not to the 1980 firefighter’s strike that culminated in a minimum staffing requirement on fire apparatus — but on the dangers of the job of firefighting and emergency medical service and the camaraderie that breeds.
“We work in a life-or-death environment [ours or our citizens] every day. We are a close-knit group that must rely on the man or woman next to us. In that spirit, we stand strong and united in our commitment to the union,” he wrote.
Why, then, does he fear a devastating impact on unions like SEIU and AFSCME?
“I’ve seen the devastation in other right-to-work for less states. SEIU and AFSCME have had a tougher time keeping their members united,” Tracy wrote.
“When you’re not working shoulder-to-shoulder with your brothers and sisters, it’s easier to slip through the cracks.”
The Janus ruling comes at a time when police officers in Chicago and around the nation are under siege. Police Officer Robert Rialmo is currently on trial over a lawsuit for the fatal shooting of Quintonio LeGrier.
Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke is awaiting trial for the murder of Laquan McDonald. Three of Van Dyke’s colleagues are also facing trial on charges they conspired to cover for Van Dyke. In light of those and other factors, Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham said he expects the FOP to soldier on without missing a beat.
“While the ruling in the Janus case is certainly problematic for public sector unions, we do not believe that it will have a significant impact upon the Fraternal Order of Police,” Graham said in a prepared statement. “Our members need representation for a host of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that we provide legal defense in an era in which accusing the police of misconduct is a cottage industry. We will continue to aggressively represent our members.”
Other union leaders react to Janus
AFSCME Council 31, the union representing the largest number of government workers in Illinois, released a statement saying that the Supreme Court “ruled today against working people and in favor of billionaire CEOs and corporate interests.”
“This case is a blatant political attack by Bruce Rauner and other wealthy interests on the freedom of working people to form strong unions,” AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said. “We are extremely disappointed the Supreme Court has taken the side of the powerful few, but we’re more determined than ever to keep our union strong, standing up for public services and the working people who provide them.”
Other union leaders struck a similar tone.
National leaders of AFSCME, NEA, AFT and SEIU talked with reporters by phone after the ruling and asserted “Janus will not stop us.” Read the full transcript.
“This Janus case is going to be a footnote. It’s nothing. We’re going to keep fighting, and we’re not going to let it stop us from fighting,” Don Villar, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, said.
“I think it has pissed us off. Usually, when your back is against the wall, you’ve got no choice but to fight back. Their intention was to weaken the union. I think it will make it strong,” Martese Chism, a nurse at Stroger hospital and a member of National Nurses United said.
The long runway to the decision gave unions a chance to prepare their membership for the post-Janus landscape. AFSCME Policy Director Anders Lindall said that the union had been talking to members for about a year about what to expect.
Jan Rodolfo, the Midwest Director for National Nurses United, said the union did not expect a “significant drop” in its membership.
“For us, it was a process of speaking to every member about the fact that it was corporation and the one percent that were behind this attack. That corporations and the one percent don’t have the interests of nurses and union members in mind. That they see unions as something that gets in the way of their efforts to de-regulate healthcare and to ultimately put profits ahead of people. We think our membership understands that and isn’t going to be swayed by short term gratification,” Rodolfo said.
According to Chism, every member of her sixteen-nurse work unit committed to continue paying dues by signing pledges and authorization cards circulated in advance of the decision.
City Hall’s chief labor negotiator reacts
“The city disagrees vehemently with Gov. Rauner on all of this and we’re certainly not gonna advocate in any way, shape or form that employees leave their union or opt out of their union,” said Jim Franczek, City Hall’s chief labor negotiator. “Ultimately, this is the employee’s decision. We have an excellent relationship with these unions.”
If city unions end up with less money and fewer members, their bargaining position could be reduced, resulting in lower wages and benefits and, therefore, reduced pressure on Chicago taxpayers, who have already endured a $2 billion avalanche of tax increases to begin to solve the city’s $36 billion pension crisis.
But Franczek said not so fast. “Short term — and frankly, possibly long-term — this will have little, if any impact on wages or benefits,” Franczek said.
“You’re assuming a fact that hasn’t existed yet — that there’ll be smaller unions, fewer people in the unions and the unions will have fewer members. We simply don’t know that yet. If in fact that happens, that may change the dynamic. But it hasn’t happened and we don’t know if it will happen.”
Franczek said the impact of the Janus ruling is likely to be “very union specific.”
“Police and fire unions because of the nature of those unions are very unlikely to be impacted. They have a particular culture of both the Police and Fire Departments. There’s also a wide range of ancillary benefits that are given to their members as a result of union membership [and bargaining]. You have a legal defense fund that’s a product of union membership and other benefits” like supplemental pay, Franczek said.
“So the incentive for a police officer or firefighter to stay with their union is fairly high. And that differs from other unions. How much so, we simply don’t know. It could have no impact whatsoever in the city of Chicago and it could have a larger impact in the suburbs and downstate.”
The impact on the Chicago Teachers Union, whose members went out on strike in 2012 and nearly did so again four years later, is likely to be minimal, Franczek said. “The teachers union is a very strong union. There’s lots of support for the teachers for their union. I have no idea if they’re gonna be vulnerable,” he said.
DISCLOSURE NOTE: Some unions have ownership stakes in Sun-Times Media, including the Chicago Federation of Labor; Operating Engineers Local 150; SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana and SEIU Local 1.