We all expect the public sector unions to lose the Janus Supreme Court case by a vote of 5-4. If union dues become optional in the public sector, how will the Union leaders respond?
Most people expect the same old arrogance and disregard for the membership from the UFT hierarchy, especially in the high schools that often don't vote for Mulgrew's Unity Caucus. The officers probably figure they can bamboozle the rank and file as they have regularly done in the past (see 2005, 2014 contracts and 2013, 2017 evaluation systems for examples). There might be some show of militancy to soothe people like those that read this blog but it probably will not be too strong nor will it last. This will more than likely lead to many defections from the Union. However, maybe the leaders of the UFT can learn from history. I'm skeptical but I like to remain hopeful. Or, maybe the rank and file will force the center of gravity in the UFT to move in an activist direction.
From the Supreme Court oral argument in Janus we have our future pretty much laid out in front of us based on what has happened historically when unions have lost automatic dues collection from non-members. David Franklin is the the solicitor general of Illinois arguing for the unions and the justices ask him questions.
JUSTICE KAGAN: Mr. -- Mr. Franklin,
Mr. Messenger has suggested, and -- and -- and General Francisco, that if we overruled Abood (end agency fees for non union members), things would in a few years get back to normal. The state would pass a new statute, and these municipal contracts would all be renegotiated and it wouldn't be any real issue. So could you -- what do you think about that? What would the difficulties be, if any, if the state -- if -- if the Court were to overrule Abood?
MR. FRANKLIN: I'm happy to speak to that, Justice Kagan. Here's what we know, and, obviously, we're on a motion to dismiss, but more broadly, what we know is that tangibly, when these kinds of obligations of financial support become voluntary, union membership goes down, union density rates go down, union resources go down. We've seen it again and again. Mancur Olson spoke about it in the foundational text of behavioral economics. We also know that, intangibly, there are plenty of studies that show that when unions are deprived of agency fees, they tend to become more militant, more confrontational, they go out in search of short-term gains that they can bring back to their members and say stick with us.
That sounds positive but if we read on, the Franklin lays out a more pessimistic future.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, the argument on the other side, of course, is that the need to attract voluntary payments will make the unions more efficient, more effective, more attractive to a broader group of their employees. What's wrong with that?
MR. FRANKLIN: Well, two things that -- that I would say about that. First, the studies that I've read indicate that, yes, there can be an initial first flush of mobilization and organizing when something like this gets taken away, but that over the long term, human nature and basic economics dictate that the free-rider problem will become endemic and, not only that, but contagious, because if I'm an employee and I stick with a union and others over time decide not to, my fees and my dues are going to go up and up and up and the pressure on me to make the same choice will increase as well.
David Franklin has seen the future. The UFT will emerge from Janus and will probably at least try to fake militancy to get members to stay in the union. However, right wing advertisements will try to convince us to leave the UFT and as people see their wages and benefits won't be cut right away if they are not in the union, many will leave to save their dues money and tell others to do the same. The UFT will then be even weaker than it already is so the chances of getting a decent contract will be less than zero. That will lead to even more defections.
A smart union would say all hands on deck; we must stick together to save ourselves even if we all must make sacrifices, including the leadership who should reform by forming a coalition with many groups within the union. It is hard to see the UFT leadership going in this direction. They have been far too pompous for far too long. They have no accountability because we in the opposition have no way to reach the almost 200,000 members of the UFT. Therefore, we could never compete in an election except in the high schools where members know us and we often win on a platform of a more militant union.
Maybe Janus will sober Mulgrew and Unity Caucus up, but a better way to do that would be for us to start a grassroots movement from below to ensure real militancy. It is happening in West Virginia, a right to work state. It can happen in union friendly, progressive NY. We need to lead from the ground.