The Racism of the Supreme Court’s “Janus” Decision

What comes next now that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has upended over 40 years of labor law?

Erica Smiley, an organizing director at Jobs With Justice, told Truthout that in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME ruling on Wednesday, which means that public sector unions can no longer require workers to pay dues, activists must work toward shifting labor law at the state level and challenging the current models of collective bargaining. It’s also imperative for labor organizers to increase union access for employees, she said.

The court’s 5-4 decision on Wednesday overturned 1977’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the case that allowed unions to collect “fair-share” fees from members and use that money to collectively bargain on behalf of workers, whether they were represented by the union or not. Janus v. AFSCME was a 2015 lawsuit brought against the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees by Mark Janus, a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services who argued that he should be able to refrain from paying his fair-share fee. By ruling in Janus’s favor, the Supreme Court decided that unions violate their workers’ First Amendment rights by requiring them to pay the fees.

Like many of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions, the Janus v. AFSCME ruling has a racist edge.

“This Supreme Court case threatens all union workers, but Black people stand to lose the most,” Smiley told Truthout. “The dog whistle attacks on public sector employees has long had a sharp racist edge, not only undermining the institutions of government but equating public servants as “lazy free-loaders” — terms often used against communities of color to justify ill treatment.”

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