WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court will rule any day now on Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, the anti-union landmark Illinois case, and the justices are expected to side against government employee unions, breaking 5-4 along Republican and Democratic lines.

Long anticipating an adverse outcome, the public sector unions in Illinois and other states have been ramping up drives to retain members and recruit new ones.

Mary Kay Henry, the International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), told the Chicago Sun-Times the union attitude is: “You can’t take us down.”’

The key vote will come from Justice Neil Gorsuch, who did not ask any questions during oral arguments on Feb. 26.

Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s appointee, on the bench only since April 2017, has not voted in prior related cases, which would have tipped his hand. He will shock Supreme Court observers if he backs organized labor in this case.

Either way, the decision in the lawsuit first filed in February 2015 by GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, will have enormous ramifications for unions. Rauner has made weakening Democratic-allied Illinois public sector unions a crusade.

There is the expectation from labor that if Janus wins, groups, bankrolled by mega donor anti-union conservatives will kick-off off campaigns to persuade government workers to opt-out of unions.

The Janus legal team includes the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center in Chicago, controlled by the Illinois Policy Institute, whose funders include a foundation controlled by Lake Forest conservative mega donor Richard Uihlein.

(NOTE: After this column was published, Liberty Justice Center President Pat Hughes took issue with the use of the word “controlled.” I used that word because on the IPI’s 990 form filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the IPI is listed as the “direct controlling entity” of the Center on a section dealing with “identification of related tax-exempt organizations.”

Hughes said,”the Illinois Policy Institute does not control the governance or operations of the Liberty Justice Center. … I am the president and LJC has its own board of directors, which is different from the board of the Illinois Policy Institute. As you know, we do not accept any government funding of any kind; our organization is supported by the generosity of people who share our mission and make voluntary contributions to advance our work. The “controlled group” is a tax designation that allows LJC and IPI – who share a philosophy of limited government and free enterprise – to share overhead expenses so that more of every donor’s dollar goes to the actual missions of the organizations, rather than overhead.”)

If Janus prevails, “I think we are going to see the beginning of the most aggressive national anti-union campaign that we’ve seen in our generation,” Henry said.

When the Janus opinion is issued, some celebrity appeal to rally union support will roll out, Henry said, from SAG-AFTRA and the NFL players unions to actress Sally Field, who stood on a desk holding a sign simply saying “union” in a powerful iconic scene from her 1979 film, “Norma Rae.”

At issue with Janus case

The legal issue is whether the current fees paid by non-union member Mark Janus to AFSCME Local 2600 violate his first amendment freedom of speech.

Illinois government employee Mark Janus, right, speaks with his legal team outside the Supreme Court, Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, in Washington.

Illinois government employee Mark Janus (right), speaks with his legal team outside the Supreme Court, on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, in Washington. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP photo

Janus is a child support specialist at the State of Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

For more than 40 years – since the Supreme Court ruled in the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education – the laws in Illinois and 21 other states allow a government worker to not join a union. However, they must pay a “fair share” fee to cover costs for representing them.

That fee does not cover union political or lobbying expenses. The Janus lawyers argued in their brief that the fee Janus pays “subsidizes” an “advocacy organization” that Janus does not support.

Janus pays about $47 each month to the union compared to member dues of $60, according to AFSCME Council 31 spokesman Anders Lindall.

Political reality 

In the context of political reality, the Janus case free speech argument is the Trojan horse carrying along conservative groups who are intent on eroding the power of the most liberal segments of organized labor.

The Illinois Economic Policy Institute, in a study released May 9, painted a dire picture for government worker unions if Janus prevails.

In 2017, Illinois had 317,000 state and local government union members and would, with a Janus win, lose over a few years 49,000 members, the study estimated.

Unions are “going to take this existential threat and use it as a way to create a stronger union membership,” Robert Bruno, a study co-author, told the Sun-Times. Bruno is the director of the University of Illinois Labor Education Program.

Janus jump-start

To Bruno’s point, the public sector unions have already mounted aggressive campaigns to curb defections and sign new members.

The SEIU has its “Together #WeRise drive;” “AFSCME Strong in Illinois” was launched last August.

The unions have been using all their tools: direct personal contact, organizer training, videos, fact sheets, ads, townhalls, flyers and direct mail.

AFSCME Council 31, SEIU Local 73 and the Chicago Teachers Union start out with most of their eligible workers already dues-paying union members.

“In a very real sense, we are taking a very negative situation and remaking it as a way to deepen and strengthen our union and grow even stronger,” Lindall said.

AFSCME Council 31 represents more than 70,000 Illinois workers and 90 percent are dues-paying members, Lindall said.

SEIU Local 73 with about 29,000 members in Illinois and northwest Indiana grew by about 800 members between August 2017 and March 2018, according to spokesman Jesus Canchola Sanchez

The Chicago Teachers Union 23,681 members take in 98 percent of eligible Chicago Public Schools workers.

Said CTU communications director Christine Geovanis: “We’ve been aggressively reaching out to both agency fee payers and CTU members since last September to sign new union cards — and beat back the right wing attempt to undercut our right to fight collectively for our students and our members.”

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.

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