Modern Union FAQs

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What is Janus v. AFSCME?

02.27.18

What is Janus v. AFSCME?

Who is Janus?
Mark Janus is a social worker working for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. He is not a member of a union, but did pay partial dues to AFSCME because of its contract with his employer and because of the worker negotiating and support AFSCME provides public sector employees.

Who is AFSCME?
AFSCME is the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which is a union that collectively bargains – or negotiates workplace contracts – on behalf of millions of workers. They do so democratically, with workers serving in advisory roles so that the union best represents workers needs and wishes when negotiating with employers.

Workers who are members of an AFSCME local union are employees at different levels of government – from sanitation workers to corrections officers to police and firefighters to, in this case, social workers.

Why is Janus bringing this lawsuit?
Mark Janus did not want any of his earnings to be collected by his local ASFCME union in the form of dues. He believes that he can negotiate his own salary and benefits with his employer, without needing the support and resources that labor unions can provide. Janus sees this as a free speech issue.

What do union dues cover?
A union, whether in the public sector (like this case) or in the private sector (like our construction workers) collect dues from employee wages in order to support a wide variety of programs and activities. Primarily, union dues are used to negotiate contracts between employers and workers (otherwise referred to as ‘collective bargaining’), to cover legal fees that might be incurred for challenges to contracts, to manage welfare, safety and strike funds, and to support the union infrastructure – employees and governance.

In the case of our blue-collar building and construction trade union members, dues also cover state-of-the-art training centers. For our private-sector union workers, every $1 a worker pays in dues, they receive $5.20 back in benefits.

What did the Supreme Court Ruling do?
The case ruled on whether or not Janus should be compelled to pay union dues, because he benefitted from the union whether he pays dues or not. Janus was not a member of AFSCME, but he did pay dues to the local chapter of AFSCME because, as a 1977 Supreme Court case – Abood v. Detroit Board of Education – ruled, the union is still working on Janus’ behalf and he is benefitting from that collective bargaining, he just isn’t paying for the union services. While no one is required to join a union, this 1977 case ruled that workers must pay partial or ‘fair-share’ dues. By paying partial dues, folks like Janus were reassured that their contributions are not going toward the small percentage of union activities that are political in nature.

The Supreme Court agreed with Janus, making the public sector a Right To Work zone, where workers can decide if they want to pay dues into a union that is working on their behalf.

What will this mean for workers?
While many workers who feel, like Janus does, that they can bargain for wages and benefits without the support of a union, many workers rely on the union to ensure they are not taken advantage of by their employers, that they have safe working conditions, fair opportunity and pay, and more. Unions play a significant role in making wages and labor benefits more equal across racial and gender lines.

What does this mean for Minnesota’s blue-collar construction union workers?
It’s hard to say. First, as a fair-share state, Minnesotans who work in the public sector will have new decisions in front of them – to join the union and pay full dues, to not join the union and pay partial dues, or to not join the union and not pay any dues. Of the 411,000 union workers in Minnesota, about 44,000 are public-sector, fair-share dues paying members who are not currently in a union. According to state’s attorneys general, “Without agency fees, union members would be required to pay more in union dues — and take home less pay than their colleagues — to subsidize the cost of providing workplace services to non-members.”

As for private-sector workers, like our blue-collar building and construction trade unions, it’s less clear. But any policy or law that reduces or limits worker protections and their ability to collectively bargain for fair and safe working conditions and benefits is an attack on all unions and all American workers. With the Court siding with Janus, labor relations and union support of workers will be forever changed to the detriment of hard-working men and women who have for years benefitted from unions.

Where can I learn more?
You can read more about the Supreme Court’s decision here.

For a bit more on the potential impacts to workers of color, take a look here, and for a Minnesota angle from MINNPOST, click here.

What can I do?

Learn what you can do to support labor in Minnesota by visiting our Take Action page.