Workers rally for union funding

Mirror photo by Shen Wu Tan / A small group of labor advocates rally along Green Avenue to oppose the Janus v. AFSCME court case on Monday.

Labor advocates in Altoona and other parts of Penn­sylvania rallied to protect funding for unions that represent government workers on Monday amid a U.S. Supreme Court hearing that could alter labor laws across the country.

Justices heard arguments in a challenge to an Illinois law that requires government employees who choose not to join a union to pay fair share fees for collective bargaining purposes.

A small group of locals rallied along Green Avenue to oppose the challenge, carrying signs that read “Right to work lower wages” and “Unions are the middle class.”

“We’re having these breakout sessions today in solidarity with our unions because of the attack on unions right now,” said Shannon Jenkins, an income maintenance caseworker for the Somerset County Assistance Office.

“They (nonunion members) still get union representation. They can still go through the union grievance process and then all of the benefits the union negotiates on their behalf, they are benefiting from. And most of us choose these state and county jobs for the benefits that come along with them, like the right to have a pension or retirement,” she added.

Dan McDermott, an employee for the Altoona unemployment office who participated in the rally, said, “We still protect them. They’re still covered under our contract. And they still would be, even if this passes. We still have to represent them. They still reap all the benefits. They just don’t have to pay. My personal opinion is this is union-busting at its finest.”

The lawsuit’s plaintiff, Mark Janus, an employee for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, brought the case to court when he learned he had to pay fair share fees to the American Federation of State, County and Munici­pal Employees Union. He argues the fees are unconstitutional and violate his First Amendment rights.

“I’m forced to associate with a union that doesn’t agree with what I agree with in some cases,” Janus told Watchdog last September. “It’s not that I’m anti-union. I just think we need to rethink some of this and where these political areas are going because they provide money to elect candidates and then these candidates are negotiating contracts for benefits and salaries.”

But multiple rally attendees said it is against federal law for unions to use their fees and dues for political purposes.

Martilynne Middleton, a business agent for Services Employees International Union, said employees can voluntarily donate a portion of their salaries for political purposes to the union’s bipartisan Committee on Political Education.

The Trump administration is backing Janus’ effort to overturn the 1977 court ruling requiring fair share fees from government employees.

Michele Jansen, director of legislation and public policy for Pennsylvania Right to Work, also expressed support for Janus.

She said unions’ benefit and wage negotiations impact policies and thus, impact the political landscape. Jansen added she thinks unions could negotiate to only have to represent their members but choose not to in order to gain exclusive collective bargaining rights for all employees.

Currently, 28 states have right-to-work laws which prohibit mandatory fees.

The AFSCME Council 83 could not be reached for comment.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in late June.

Mirror Staff Writer Shen Wu Tan is at 946-7457.