WASHINGTON, D.C.: On Wednesday, June 27, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on the case of Janus v. AFSCME. The majority opinion stated that public employees do not have to pay mandatory agency fees to unions, even if they benefit from the actions of those unions. Those fees usually cover the costs of collective bargaining, and are separate from the dues paid by members.
The nine-member court voted 5-4, with the majority opinion stating that the fees violated “the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”
Though the plaintiff in the case was an Illinois state government worker, Mark Janus, the decision has the potential to weaken funding for all public sector unions. While membership into a union is optional, unions are legally obligated to bargain for everyone in a particular work group. In the theatre sector, the unions Actors’ Equity Association and Stage Directors and Choreographers Society have issued statements decrying the decision.
Mary McColl, executive director of AEA, which represents more than 51,000 stage actors and stage managers, released the following statement:
Today, the Supreme Court issued a decision that is a blatant attempt to take away the freedom of working people to join together in union. Equity stands with our brothers and sisters across the country who are fighting against a system that is rigged in favor of special interests and big corporations. We will organize. We will hold our elected officials accountable. And we will fight back against efforts to divide us. Every working American has had their lives made better by labor unions. We will not rest while the American worker is being attacked.
Laura Penn, executive director of SDC, released the following statement, which read in part:
Today’s Supreme Court decision in Janus vs. AFSCME profoundly undermines the rights of American workers. By siding with powerful private interests who do not want workers to have the ability to collectively bargain and speak up for their safety, their livelihoods, and the lives of their families, the Court’s conservative majority has immediately expanded the divisions in this country.
Instead of defending speech, this decision will silence millions of workers by eroding the resources which enable unions to stand for fair compensation and benefits, workplace protections, and many fundamental rights which the labor movement has fought so hard for since its earliest days.
Like McColl, Penn also promised further action on the part of her union, saying, “The directors and choreographers who make up the membership of SDC pledge solidarity and support to righting this egregious wrong.”