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Congressional Democrats strategize with labor leaders to fight Janus impact

On July 2, 2018 at the AFSCME Council in Chicago, AFSCME Executive Director Roberta Lynch speaks at a press conference on the repercussions of the Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31. I Maria de la Guardia/Sun-Times

On July 2, 2018 at the AFSCME Council in Chicago, AFSCME Executive Director Roberta Lynch speaks at a press conference on the repercussions of the Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31. I Maria de la Guardia/Sun-Times

A local labor leader Monday conceded that, in the wake of the Janus v. AFSCME ruling, it was unlikely that state laws could be changed in the near future to minimize the impact of the ruling.

Roberta Lynch, the executive director of AFSCME Council 31 and the defendant in the Janus lawsuit, was asked if she’d support legislation on the state level that would remove the requirement that unions collectively bargain on behalf of employees not in the union.

“We don’t have a very favorable governor right now, and I’m giving an understatement,” Lynch said. “We’re not anticipating that there will be any union-friendly, worker-friendly legislation in the state with the current governor that we have, who spearheaded this effort to take rights away from workers.”

The Janus case was started by Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Lynch added, though, that AFSCME believes a host of state-level legislators are prepared to side with unions.

“No doubt, there will be legislators who want to work with us,” she said. “It very well could be a different governor.”

U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the Democratic Whip in the U.S. House, and three Illinois Democrats Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi and Rep. Brad Schneider took part in a meeting with members and leaders of AFSCME, the Chicago Federation of Labor, the Illinois Education Association, SEIU and other unions.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that non-union member government employees’ First Amendment rights shield them from having to pay fees to a union to cover costs to represent them.

The Supreme Court ruling threatens to deal a serious financial blow to unions, which rely on membership dues to stay solvent.

Hoyer said he was dismayed by the Supreme Court’s ruling, but was encouraged by “a conviction that giving up is not an option.”

In the wake of that ruling, Schakowsky said, unions have actually seen an increase in membership.

“What they have heard from their members and what they see on the books is that they actually have, net, picked up members,” the congresswoman said. “I think that perhaps a sleeping giant has been awakened.”

After the Janus ruling came down, a state government website and email pointed out to employees that they’re not longer required to pay fees if they choose to not be in a union.

The union representing the majority of state workers accused Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner of putting “anti-work vitriol” into workers’ email inboxes. Rauner’s office said the notices were “straight-forward.”

Speaking Monday, Hoyer said “the advantages [of union membership] without the contribution is not fair.”

“This is not just about public sector unions,” said Hoyer, who left Monday’s press conference before reporters could ask questions. “This is a fight that all of us must join.”

Stephen Mittons, an investigator for the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services, pledged that “working people aren’t going to take this lying down.”

“We’re going to continue to organize and fight back,” he said.

DISCLOSURE: Some unions have ownership stakes in the Sun-Times, including the Chicago Federation of Labor; Operating Engineers Local 150; SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana and SEIU Local 1.