Union officials are gloating that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME has not affected the labor movement. But are they telling the whole story? A review of union narratives after Michigan adopted a right-to-work law suggests that unions are prone to downplay the effects of policies that create choices for union members.
In June the Supreme Court reversed a 40-year-old precedent and held that Mark Janus, an Illinois state worker, could not lose his job if he refused to financially support the union of his workplace. This ruling recognized a right to non-association in more than 20 states, which affects 5 million public employees. Prior to the June ruling, union officials had issued ominous predictions.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the case was an attempt to “gut … a strong and united labor movement[.]” Naomi Walker, assistant to the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), saw far-reaching consequences: “The progressive infrastructure in this country, from think tanks to advocacy organizations — which depends on the resources and engagement of workers and their unions — will crumble.” At the Janus hearing, the union’s attorney warned justices of “an untold specter of labor unrest throughout the country.”