Disaster Averted: How Unions Have Dodged the Blow of Janus (So Far)

Public-sector unions defied the Right’s attempt to crush them—and were transformed in the process.

Heather Gies January 10, 2019

Illustrations by Annee Schwank

Months after the Supreme Court’s June 2018 Janus v. AFSCME deci­sion, pub­lic-sec­tor unions are not tee­ter­ing on the brink of col­lapse, as their detrac­tors may have hoped. The con­sen­sus is that good prepa­ra­tion soft­ened the ini­tial blow.

Janus could also spark a labor surge. "It might generate a higher level of union activism. If that happens, what they’ve intended to do here may backfire."

Any­one writ­ing our obit­u­ary is going to be sore­ly dis­ap­point­ed,” Lee Saun­ders, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of State, Coun­ty and Munic­i­pal Employ­ees (AFSCME), tells In These Times. We don’t believe we are going to get hurt near­ly as bad­ly as peo­ple thought by Janus.”

U.S. labor law requires unions to rep­re­sent every­one in a bar­gain­ing unit whether or not they opt to be offi­cial, dues-pay­ing union mem­bers. Pri­or to Janus, most states required those who opt­ed out to pay for that rep­re­sen­ta­tion through fair-share fees,” set at a per­cent­age of dues. In one fell swoop, Janus elim­i­nat­ed fair-share fees for pub­lic-sec­tor unions nation­wide, allow­ing non­mem­bers to get all the ben­e­fits of the union with­out paying.

In These Times spoke with five U.S. pub­lic-sec­tor unions affect­ed by Janus: AFSCME, the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers (AFT), the Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tion­al Union (SEIU), the Nation­al Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion (NEA) and the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­i­ca (CWA). Before Janus, work­ers who only paid their fair share and did not choose to be mem­bers made up 3 per­cent to 9 per­cent of the peo­ple rep­re­sent­ed by these unions. With the rul­ing, rev­enue from pub­lic-sec­tor fair-share fees vanished.

But Janus also pos­es anoth­er, deep­er threat. Cur­rent dues-pay­ing mem­bers may decide — with an assist from rightwing opt-out” cam­paigns — to leave the union, know­ing they can get the ben­e­fits for free.

Pub­lic-sec­tor unions have been hard at work to re-engage mem­bers and con­vince them not to opt out. These ini­tial efforts have been suc­cess­ful, with far low­er opt-out rates than feared, some below 1 per­cent. The unions are ben­e­fit­ing from a favor­able cli­mate: Approval of labor unions is at a 15-year high, and a major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans view unions pos­i­tive­ly. I’d like to think this is back­fir­ing on all the cor­po­rate anti-union forces that cooked this up,” says CWA Sec­re­tary-Trea­sur­er Sara Steffens.

For now, pub­lic-sec­tor unions’ mem­ber­ship rates appear to be hold­ing steady or even grow­ing (although most unions decline to give hard fig­ures, say­ing they are still col­lect­ing data from locals). Opt-ins — the con­ver­sions of fair-share fee-pay­ers into mem­bers — have out­paced opt-outs by as much as 5 to 1. New­ly union­ized work­places have also helped off­set losses.

The exis­ten­tial threat to mem­ber­ship, how­ev­er, is far from over. As work­forces turn over, new hires may not under­stand why they should join the union. It might be a slow ero­sion over time,” says Chris Brooks, writer and orga­niz­er at Labor Notes. It’s prob­a­bly too ear­ly to tell how deep the impacts are going to be.”

With an eye to the long game, In These Times spoke to nation­al and local union lead­ers and rank-and-file mem­bers about how they are adapt­ing to a post-Janus world.

Defy­ing expectations

AFSCME, AFT, SEIU, NEA and CWA tell In These Times that months, if not years, of prepar­ing for Janus helped them dodge the bul­let. CWA and AFSCME began mem­ber engage­ment cam­paigns in 2015 in antic­i­pa­tion of the Supreme Court ban­ning pub­lic-sec­tor fair-share fees through anoth­er case, Friedrichs v. Cal­i­for­nia Teach­ers Asso­ci­a­tion (only to have the death of Jus­tice Antonin Scalia grant a reprieve). Through a pro­gram called AFSCME Strong, AFSCME pri­or­i­tized per­son­al con­ver­sa­tions as a strat­e­gy to strength­en the union. Near­ly 200,000 fair-share fee-pay­ers joined as full mem­bers before Janus came down. AFSCME’s ratio of optins to opt-outs stands at 5 to 1.

NEA pre­pared for Janus by shift­ing from a ser­vic­ing cul­ture” to an orga­niz­ing cul­ture,” says Tom Israel, NEA direc­tor of state affil­i­ate growth. The union trained staff and lead­ers in orga­niz­ing, launched a New Ed Cam­paign to engage new hires and reached out to fair-share fee-pay­ers. Thou­sands of fee-pay­ers thought they were actu­al­ly full mem­bers and hap­pi­ly con­vert­ed,” Israel says.

AFT, too, has been work­ing to cul­ti­vate trust and a sense of belong­ing through one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions. AFT Pres­i­dent Ran­di Wein­garten esti­mates that less than 1 per­cent of mem­bers have opt­ed out. About a third of exist­ing mem­bers have recom­mit­ted their mem­ber­ship — mean­ing they aren’t con­sid­er­ing aban­don­ing the union — and a num­ber of locals are sit­ting at 100 per­cent mem­ber­ship, includ­ing Van­lue, Ohio; Yonkers, N.Y.; Spring­field, Mass.; Scran­ton, Pa.; and more than 150 locals each in Min­neso­ta and Illinois.

Mem­ber­ship in the Unit­ed Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers, which rep­re­sents most of New York City’s pub­lic-school teach­ers, is at 99.3 per­cent. Unit­ed Teach­ers Los Ange­les (UTLA) has con­vert­ed more than 1,200 of its 3,000 fee-pay­ers into full members.

We’ve made a strate­gic deci­sion to inten­tion­al­ly and delib­er­ate­ly go out and talk to mem­bers,” says Geor­gia Flow­ers-Lee, a preschool spe­cial edu­ca­tion teacher and a mem­ber of UTLA’s board of direc­tors. In those con­ver­sa­tions, local lead­ers empha­sized that the union is not just an insur­ance pol­i­cy” against hos­tile actions by boss­es, but a tool for col­lec­tive action,” says UTLA Field and Orga­niz­ing Direc­tor Bri­an McNamara.

Only 56 of UTLA’s 34,000 mem­bers have dropped their mem­ber­ship as a result of Janus, while the num­ber of indi­vid­u­als who vol­un­tar­i­ly con­tribute to UTLA’s Polit­i­cal Action Coun­cil of Edu­ca­tors (PACE) fund for polit­i­cal advo­ca­cy has increased 62 per­cent. Mem­bers have also vot­ed over the past few years to increase union dues to put the union on stronger finan­cial footing.

For UTLA, resist­ing Janus is close­ly tied to the union’s broad­er fight to pro­tect pub­lic edu­ca­tion and secure a bet­ter learn­ing envi­ron­ment. The orga­niz­ing of edu­ca­tors through the union is one of the only obsta­cles to pri­va­tiz­ers’ efforts to take over our pub­lic schools,” says McNa­ma­ra. Janus is about under­min­ing and attempt­ing to bank­rupt our union so that we’re not there to lead the social jus­tice fight for pub­lic schools.” The union vot­ed 98 per­cent in August 2018 to autho­rize a strike, set for Jan­u­ary 10 as this issue went to press.

UTLA is fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of the Chica­go Teach­ers Union (CTU), which went on strike to fight cuts in 2012 after a reform cau­cus was vot­ed into pow­er. Its strat­e­gy of mass action and com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment around pub­lic edu­ca­tion fos­tered an esprit de corps that, along with inter­nal mem­ber engage­ment, helped stave off Janus dropouts. Only 20 out of more than 25,000 CTU mem­bers have opt­ed out. The polit­i­cal ini­tia­tive to weak­en labor has been met with defi­ance with­in our ranks,” says CTU Pres­i­dent Jesse Sharkey.

For Sharkey, the 2012 Chica­go strike and the 2018 Red for Ed move­ment show pub­lic edu­ca­tion find­ing its voice col­lec­tive­ly and lead­ing by exam­ple.” He adds, There’s no blue­print for that.”

Opt out? No thanks

In many states, pub­lic-sec­tor unions are up against right-wing groups bom­bard­ing mem­bers with opt-out mes­sag­ing at home and at work. Pub­lic-sec­tor union mem­bers are unique­ly vul­ner­a­ble to such cam­paigns because their con­tact infor­ma­tion can be obtained through pub­lic records requests.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of AFSCME and AFT say that these attempts have large­ly back­fired, and have instead gal­va­nized sup­port for the union.

One of the most aggres­sive opt-out cam­paign­ers is the Free­dom Foun­da­tion, part of the State Pol­i­cy Net­work of cor­po­rate-backed con­ser­v­a­tive groups that helped bankroll Janus. Attempt­ing to take advan­tage of what it calls the oppor­tu­ni­ty of a life­time” to gut unions, the Free­dom Foun­da­tion has tar­get­ed pub­lic employ­ees in Alas­ka, Cal­i­for­nia and Ore­gon with mail­ings, email cam­paigns, can­vass­ing at large work sites, door-to-door vis­its, and an Opt Out Today” web­site dis­guised in union colors.

The Free­dom Foun­da­tion claims it has con­tact­ed 180,000 pub­lic employ­ees and con­vinced 25,000 to opt out. But Peter Starzyn­s­ki, exec­u­tive direc­tor of North­west Account­abil­i­ty Project, a watch­dog group, doubts that figure’s accu­ra­cy, not­ing that the Free­dom Foundation’s direc­tor of labor pol­i­cy told the right-wing web­site PJ Media that the cal­cu­la­tions were more art than science.”

Con­trary to the Free­dom Foundation’s think­ing, union mem­bers aren’t stu­pid,” Starzyn­s­ki says. They know the Free­dom Foun­da­tion has sup­port­ed every anti-work­er and anti-fam­i­ly pol­i­cy the far-right has to offer.”after_janus_hourglass

One of the Free­dom Foundation’s tar­gets is SEIU Local 503 in Ore­gon, a 72,000-strong union whose mem­bers include home-care providers and state work­ers. Shamus Cooke, a social work­er and one of Local 503’s chief stew­ards, sus­pects the cam­paigns are mak­ing a dent in Local 503’s ranks based on how easy and com­pelling” they make it to opt out.

Cooke, who lost a bid to become the local’s exec­u­tive direc­tor, says that the local’s lead­er­ship did not invest in edu­cat­ing mem­bers about Janus in advance, and con­ver­sa­tions he’s had at dif­fer­ent work sites have revealed a gen­er­al dis­sat­is­fac­tion” with the union.

But Sara Cam­pos, an employ­ee at the Depart­ment of Human Ser­vices in Salem, Ore., and a board mem­ber of Local 503, says most peo­ple seem to under­stand that it’s the union, not the Free­dom Foun­da­tion, that looks out for work­ers. She says, What’s been most effec­tive is just talk­ing to my co-workers.”

New mem­bers have out­paced dropouts 3 to 2, Cam­pos adds. Local 503 declined to dis­close the total num­ber of dropouts.

The Penn­syl­va­nia State Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion (PSEA), an NEA affil­i­ate, has also faced a slew of optout cam­paigns tar­get­ing its 181,000 mem­bers. The Key­stone Teach­ers Asso­ci­a­tion (KEY­TA), which bills itself as a pro­fes­sion­al alter­na­tive to union mem­ber­ship” for teach­ers, has tried to recruit teach­ers away from the union, accord­ing to Chris Lilien­thal, PSEA assis­tant direc­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions. In lieu of the work­place pow­er a union pro­vides, KEY­TA offers $400-a-year lia­bil­i­ty insurance.

Lilien­thal says that inter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions to mem­bers have pro­vid­ed a strong coun­ter­bal­ance” to the efforts of out­side groups to lure away mem­bers. Since Janus, only about 900 PSEA mem­bers, less than 1 per­cent, have opt­ed out. Accord­ing to Lilien­thal, although some of the dropouts will be off­set through new mem­ber sign-ups, PSEA expects a net loss of membership.

One of PSEA’s locals, the Inter­boro Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion (IEA) in south­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia, has retained 100 per­cent of its 300 mem­bers. Dan McGrath, a social stud­ies teacher and for­mer pres­i­dent of IEA, chalked up the suc­cess to a mul­ti-pronged” effort to pre­pare for Janus with a focus on one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions led by respect­ed work­place lead­ers. At the end of each con­ver­sa­tion, lead­ers asked mem­bers to pledge to remain in the union. It empow­ered some of our mem­bers,” McGrath says, not­ing it also pro­vid­ed an oppor­tu­ni­ty for mem­bers to ask ques­tions and raise concerns.

After Janus, one IEA mem­ber threat­ened to aban­don the union over polit­i­cal dis­agree­ments when the NEA cel­e­brat­ed Col­in Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp. The camp, inspired by the Black Pan­thers’ 10-Point Pro­gram, teach­es skills to Bay Area black and Lati­no youth, such as how to respond to police bru­tal­i­ty and access high­er edu­ca­tion. Over break­fast, a trust­ed IEA leader dis­cussed the ben­e­fits of union rep­re­sen­ta­tion with the skep­ti­cal mem­ber, who ulti­mate­ly decid­ed not to aban­don IEA. By sit­ting down and break­ing bread, they found com­mon ground,” McGrath says.

Cut­ting corners?

Most unions say they did not cut staff in antic­i­pa­tion of lost Janus rev­enue, although some imposed oth­er belt-tight­en­ing mea­sures, such as cut­ting back on trav­el. The bet large­ly paid off: With mem­ber­ship hold­ing steady, bud­gets have not been hurt as bad­ly as feared. AFT expect­ed an 8 per­cent rev­enue loss, but it’s been far less,” says spokesper­son Andrew Crook. NEA’s most recent fis­cal year end­ed two months after Janus. Its annu­al report showed net gains, not loss­es, in mem­ber­ship and rev­enue despite 87,000 lost fair­share fee-payers.

SEIU did hedge against Janus by reduc­ing staff. One SEIU local staffer, who request­ed anonymi­ty so as to speak freely, was crit­i­cal of this deci­sion, argu­ing that resources should have been mobi­lized to orga­nize in poten­tial­ly break­through ways” that build work­er pow­er but won’t nec­es­sar­i­ly pro­duce imme­di­ate dividends.

Mem­ber engage­ment takes time, labor, know-how and a will­ing­ness to lis­ten to mem­bers, which may be daunt­ing to some unions. Kate Bron­fen­bren­ner, senior lec­tur­er and direc­tor of labor edu­ca­tion research at Cor­nell University’s School of Indus­tri­al and Labor Rela­tions, says that unions that are nat­u­ral­ly pub­lic-sec­tor — like edu­ca­tion, health­care and gov­ern­ment work — are often bet­ter equipped for post-Janus mem­ber engage­ment than unions like build­ing trades that jumped on the pub­lic-sec­tor band­wag­on because it was eas­i­er to orga­nize than the pri­vate sec­tor. For these unions, she says, Putting mon­ey into offer­ing ben­e­fits is eas­i­er than going out and doing the hard work of build­ing a union.”

In the Mid­west, five build­ing trades locals — car­pen­ters, labor­ers, elec­tri­cal work­ers and two oper­at­ing engi­neers unions — teamed up to pio­neer a mem­bers-only ben­e­fits pro­gram to dis­cour­age dropouts. The Mid­west Coali­tion of Labor (MCL) offers its 100,000 mem­bers — 10,000 of whom are pub­lic-sec­tor — a spe­cial pack­age of ben­e­fits, such as life insur­ance. MCL spokesper­son Kim Ortiz says the coali­tion has been extreme­ly effec­tive.” Of the 10,000 pub­lic sec­tor mem­bers, only 40 have dropped their mem­ber­ship since Janus, and MCL is in the process of bring­ing more unions on board.

Labor Notes’ Brooks, how­ev­er, sees such pro­grams as mis­guid­ed. We have to go back to unions’ roots,” he says. We win when we fight, not when we pro­vide bet­ter services.”

Employ­ers react

A report released in May by Robert Bruno, a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Urbana-Cham­paign School of Labor and Employ­ments, and Frank Man­zo, pol­i­cy direc­tor of the Illi­nois Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy Insti­tute, pro­ject­ed that Janus would hurt pub­lic-sec­tor wages by dis­em­pow­er­ing unions in bar­gain­ing. They pre­dict­ed a 3.6 per­cent drop in wages for gov­ern­ment work­ers and 5.4 per­cent for pub­lic school teach­ers (with an annu­al hit to the U.S. econ­o­my of between $11.7 bil­lion and $33.4 billion).

The impacts on wages will only come to light as con­tracts come up for nego­ti­a­tion. Thus far, respons­es to Janus from employ­ers have ranged from sup­port­ive to opportunistic.

In the wake of the rul­ing, the Cincin­nati Board of Edu­ca­tion affirmed labor rights by pass­ing a res­o­lu­tion that read: Under Ohio law, the rights of pub­lic-sec­tor employ­ees are unaf­fect­ed by the deci­sion in Janus.”

At the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Chica­go, on the oth­er hand, four of the largest on-cam­pus unions missed thou­sands of dol­lars in dues that the uni­ver­si­ty did not deduct from post-Janus pay­checks in July. The uni­ver­si­ty cit­ed issues pro­cess­ing the pay­roll changes nec­es­sary to remove fair-share fee-pay­ers. Two of the unions have filed an unfair labor prac­tice com­plaint with the state.

Mean­while, Licensed Prac­ti­cal Nurs­es (LPNs) at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois Hos­pi­tal and Clin­ics (UIH), who were in the mid­dle of nego­ti­at­ing a new con­tract, wit­nessed a shift after Janus, when the uni­ver­si­ty brought in a new nego­tia­tor and turned to hard­line bargaining.

Tris­tan Bock-Hugh­es, an exter­nal orga­niz­er with the Illi­nois Nurs­es Asso­ci­a­tion, accus­es the uni­ver­si­ty hos­pi­tal of try­ing to cre­ate a sec­ond-class sta­tus” for LPNs by refus­ing con­tract pro­tec­tions held by oth­er cam­pus work­ers. Of the 35 employ­ees in the bar­gain­ing unit, 33 are women of color.

From the under­paid start­ing wage of $17.59 for LPNs, about $7 less than the Chica­go stan­dard, UIH pro­posed an increase of 71 cents. The low wages keep the LPNs chron­i­cal­ly under­staffed, rough­ly 15 spots short of a full con­tin­gent. The unfair­ness is very blunt,” says Rosa Can­tu, an LPN who has spent 13 years of her three-decade nurs­ing career at UIH.

The university’s post-Janus actions brought togeth­er the four cam­pus unions, rep­re­sent­ing nurs­es (includ­ing the LPNs), grad­u­ate stu­dents, fac­ul­ty and cler­i­cal, main­te­nance and tech­ni­cal work­ers. On Nov. 15, 2018, they held a joint action at the university’s Board of Trustees meet­ing. About a hun­dred work­ers marched into the meet­ing with signs demand­ing fair con­tracts, liv­ing wages and an end to union bust­ing. On the same day, the LPNs went on strike and were joined by their fel­low unions on the pick­et line.

The Right smells opportunity

Janus has opened a new chap­ter in the decades-long fight over labor law.

On the pro-labor side, some blue states have stepped in to help unions weath­er Janus. New laws in New York, New Jer­sey, Cal­i­for­nia, Mary­land and Wash­ing­ton state ensure unions can meet with new hires. Cal­i­for­nia, Wash­ing­ton and New Jer­sey also pro­hib­it pub­lic-sec­tor employ­ers from urg­ing employ­ees to drop out of the union.

But the right-wing Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Exchange Coun­cil (ALEC), which led the charge to pass anti-union right-to-work ” laws at the state lev­el, sees oppor­tu­ni­ties in Janus. The group has draft­ed laws to fur­ther cur­tail pub­lic-sec­tor unions’ rights. Lead Janus plain­tiff Mark Janus was a fea­tured speak­er at ALEC’s annu­al con­fer­ence in Decem­ber 2018, where, accord­ing to Gov­ern­ing mag­a­zine, he was hailed as a hero. Janus — who has left his job as an Illi­nois state employ­ee to work for the right-wing think tank that bankrolled Janus—urged the state leg­is­la­tors in atten­dance to intro­duce ALEC’s mod­el laws in their states.

ALEC’s Pub­lic Employ­ee Rights and Autho­riza­tion Act, for exam­ple, would require pub­lic employ­ees to active­ly opt in as union mem­bers by sign­ing a form waiv­ing [one’s] right to free speech.” Oth­er ALEC bills would open the door to decer­ti­fi­ca­tion of pub­lic-sec­tor unions, ban paid release time” for pub­lic employ­ees to con­duct union busi­ness, and chip away at col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing by allow­ing pub­lic employ­ees to bar­gain independently.

On anoth­er front, anti-union think tank the Buck­eye Insti­tute filed two law­suits in August 2018 inspired by Janus. The suits chal­lenge exclu­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tion, unions’ right — and duty — to rep­re­sent every­one in a bar­gain­ing unit once a major­i­ty has vot­ed to unionize.

While the Right has long had its eye on exclu­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tion, some in the labor move­ment have also come to ques­tion it in the wake of Janus. Labor experts James Gray Pope, Ed Bruno and Peter Kell­man argued in a joint arti­cle for In These Times that aban­don­ing exclu­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tion for a mem­bers-only” mod­el would nul­li­fy the threat of increas­ing num­bers of free rid­ers,” among oth­er benefits.

The issue is con­tro­ver­sial. AFSCME respond­ed to Janus by enshrin­ing its com­mit­ment to exclu­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Ran­di Wein­garten says AFT is on the same page. It’s real­ly impor­tant for fair­ness that a con­tract applies to everyone.”

Legal pos­si­bil­i­ties for labor

Unions are also con­sid­er­ing new legal strate­gies opened up by Janus. Robert Bruno thinks Janus could be a way to look for addi­tion­al legal rights.” He believes the log­ic of First Amend­ment rights in the Janus rul­ing could call into ques­tion the con­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty of state laws that lim­it union activ­i­ty, such as restric­tions on strikes or on sub­jects of bargaining.

One mem­ber of the Mid­west Coali­tion of Labor, the Inter­na­tion­al Union of Oper­at­ing Engi­neers (IUOE) Local 150, has begun to test these waters. In antic­i­pa­tion of the Janus rul­ing, in Feb­ru­ary 2018 the union filed suit against out­go­ing Illi­nois Gov. Bruce Rauner, chief archi­tect of the Janus suit. Sweeney v. Rauner argues that Janus ren­ders cen­tral pro­vi­sions of Illi­nois labor law uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, such as unions’ duty to fair­ly rep­re­sent work­ers who don’t pay dues.

Local 150 also made the uncon­ven­tion­al deci­sion to walk away from a small bar­gain­ing unit of 14 mem­bers, the Win­neba­go Coun­ty For­est Pre­serve Dis­trict, after five employ­ees opt­ed to leave the union after Janus. (The union used a long­stand­ing, but rarely exer­cised, option under Illi­nois labor law called a dis­in­ter­est petition.”)

It’s a clear mes­sage: If you don’t val­ue our ser­vice, we’re not going to give it away for free,” says Local 150 Senior Coun­sel Ken Edwards. There has to be a con­se­quence for peo­ple not paying.”

Brooks calls moves like Local 150’s a ter­ri­ble prece­dent,” stress­ing that unions draw their strength from col­lec­tive representation.

Fir­ing up the labor movement

Bruno tells In These Times that while an imme­di­ate mass exo­dus” of union mem­bers has not occurred, he still pre­dicts that Janus will decrease union­iza­tion rates over the long term. He and Man­zo esti­mat­ed that Janus will even­tu­al­ly low­er mem­ber­ship among gov­ern­ment employ­ees by 8.2 per­cent and among teach­ers by 4.8 percent.

We are on tar­get to see rough­ly the num­bers we pre­dict­ed,” says Bruno, who believes the full impact of Janus will not be known for three to five years.

He adds that Janus could also spark a labor surge. It might gen­er­ate a high­er lev­el of union activism,” he says. If that hap­pens, what they’ve intend­ed to do here may backfire.”

If Janus has a sil­ver lin­ing, it is that unions have been chal­lenged to rethink and trans­form their orga­ni­za­tion­al cul­tures. Respond­ing to Janus means not only expos­ing the inten­tions of the union busters who orga­nized the law­suit, but also recu­per­at­ing the val­ue of union mem­ber­ship with­in the union. SEIU Health­care Illi­nois & Indi­ana Vice Pres­i­dent Alex Han says Janus has sparked a resurg­ing activist core and lead­er­ship base.”

He adds, The say­ing that the boss is the best orga­niz­er is true.”

Cedric de Leon, soci­ol­o­gy pro­fes­sor and direc­tor of the Labor Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts Amherst, is opti­mistic. Unions exist­ed before dues col­lec­tion, and they were mil­i­tant and improved the lives of work­ers,” he says. What the labor move­ment needs now more than ever after Janus is a redis­cov­ery and recu­per­a­tion of the first prin­ci­ple that orga­niz­ing is the whole damn ball game.”

Aside from forc­ing unions back to basics, he sug­gests Janus could also be a wake-up call. Peo­ple should care about Janus because it shows there is class war hap­pen­ing in this coun­try and it is the employ­er that is wag­ing a one-sided war against Amer­i­can work­ers,” he says. The ques­tion then becomes, what are we going to do about it?”

Heather Gies is a free­lance jour­nal­ist who has writ­ten on human rights, social move­ments and envi­ron­men­tal issues for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, In These Times and Nation­al Geo­graph­ic. Fol­low her on twit­ter @HeatherGies.
Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH