Why Does Janus v. AFSCME Matter to Educators?

The backers of the Janus case see it as one more way to chip, chip, chip away at unions.

Montgomery County kindergarten teacher Kember Kane speaks to fellow union activists in front of the Supreme Court before the Janus v. AFSCME case was heard on February 26. A decision is expected this summer.

On February 26, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a case designed to weaken or dismantle unions and the opportunity for employees to raise their voices and speak up for their jobs, families, and communities.

Today in Maryland, our union — 74,000 educators strong — is at the center of fights for professional salaries for teachers, a living wage for education support professionals, and the staffing and resources to truly serve students and communities with smaller class sizes, more counselors, and more opportunities for every student to succeed.

Speaking in front of the Supreme Court before the case was heard, Montgomery County kindergarten teacher Kember Kane told a crowd of fellow union members, “Our teachers union negotiates for all of us, advocates for all of our needs, and works to protect all of our students. This teachers union is built on unity. It represents our voice and empowers us as professionals committed to the success of students in every community.”

Supreme Court: Janus v AFSCME – NEA Today
A handful of greedy CEOs and special interests don’t want educators to have a seat at the table to advocate for better…neatoday.org

Where did this case come from? This time it’s billionaire Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner who is attacking public service workers. It’s just one more example of powerful people trying to tip the scales even further away from the middle class. We’ve heard about the damage done to public education by Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, who stripped collective bargaining rights from teachers who then saw their salaries drop by as much as 11%.

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Who is behind this case? The National Right to Work Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center, which are bank-rolled by corporate billionaires who have funded politicians and corporate lobbyists for years to attack unions. Their goal is for the Supreme Court to join their efforts and threaten union members’ living wages, retirement security, health benefits, and more.

What is agency fee and why is this an issue? Agency fees are paid by non- union members to cover the cost of negotiating and enforcing the contracts that every employee benefits from. If agency fees are no longer permissible, that could affect our capacity to organize members into a powerful force for our schools, profession, and communities.

The backers of the Janus case see it as a way to chip away at the power of unions and our ability to be a united voice for all employees.

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What does this mean for Maryland and MSEA? “Agency fee payers represent less than 5% of our total membership,” said MSEA Executive Director David Helfman. “We want them to understand what we do and to help them make the connections between what’s important to them and what we’re fighting for — improving school funding, strengthening the profession, supporting early career educators, and building communities.

“We’re seeing more and more attacks on working people and communities. We need to protect our common interests by staying strong and united, and asking everyone to join us.”