On February 26, the Supreme Court will hear the case Janus v. AFSCME. The central question of the case is whether public-sector unions have a legal right to collect the agency fee non-members in a public-sector bargaining unit pay for benefits they receive from the union. The court will issue a decision by this summer. Given the court’s conservative majority, unions expect a ruling against organized labor.
For the PSC, that means that non-members in the bargaining unit will no longer pay these fees, even though they are protected by the union contract and receive union-negotiated salaries and benefits. The most immediate effect of this change is that it would reduce revenue to the PSC, affecting the union’s operating budget.
A more fundamental threat is at play. The lawsuit is very purposeful: it is backed by the same right-wing anti-union organizations that have supported similar lawsuits and so-called “right-to-work” state-level legislation to weaken union power, politically and at the bargaining table. Even when unions maintain membership levels without agency shop fees in right-to-work states, the prohibition against collecting agency shop fees force unions to expend energy locating new members rather than use that organizational energy to win economic gains for workers or pressure the government for adequate public service funding.
That is why the PSC has been mobilizing for the last several months to have as many people in the bargaining unit committed to the union before this new right-to-work regime takes hold. The PSC’s material gains for CUNY faculty and staff are made possible by the union’s ability to organize its strength in numbers, whether by bringing hundreds of members to a rally or organizing a strike authorization vote. The organized power in numbers – of rank-and-file member activists – has enabled the PSC to achieve things such as the historic teaching-load reduction, the higher education officer assignment differential and the multi-year appointments for 1,500 adjunct instructors.
The same power in numbers will be necessary for the PSC to win at the bargaining table in negotiations for a new contract and make gains, like $7,000 per course per semester for adjuncts, a 5 percent across-the-board annual pay increase, additional pay increase for college laboratory technicians and lecturers, and improvements to the multiyear appointment pilot program for adjunct instructors. It is people power that is needed to pressure the government to invest in public services, whether it be higher-education funding or health care.
ATTACKING THE PUBLIC SECTOR
After all, the attack on the power of public-sector unions like the PSC is also an attack on the public sector itself, a perennial target of the right.
“The Supreme Court should not ignore the fact that state and local governments have a vital interest in the benefits of collaboration that come from robust collective bargaining and unionization,” said American Association of University Professors General Counsel Risa Lieberwitz, upon announcing the group’s amicus brief to the court supporting a ruling in favor of labor in Janus. “Those benefits for all public citizens include improved government services, better educational outcomes and higher economic mobility.” The PSC’s collective power is also essential for pressing for full funding of CUNY and for advocating on behalf of working-class students.
To maintain the power in numbers, organizers are having agency shop fee-payers as well as current members sign a new, blue membership card and commit to keeping the union strong. Members and fee-payers can sign cards. Members are encouraged to sign up their colleagues, either through the website or with the membership cards, which they can get available from their chapter chairs or PSC organizers.