July 11, 2018

Whitehouse Leads DPCC Hearing on Protecting Workers’ Rights in Wake of Janus

Illinois home health care worker: ‘Billionaire-funded extremist groups like State Policy Network and Freedom Foundation have launched a series of aggressive attacks on working people like myself.’

Washington, DC – In the wake of the Supreme Court’s sharply anti-union 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME and immediately following the announcement of Brett Kavanaugh as President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC) held a hearing on Tuesday about the corporate-backed campaign to take away working Americans’ rights and the vast public support and growing energy for unions across the country.  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) joined DPCC Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) in leading the hearing in the U.S. Capitol to hear from workers, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, and professor and author Nancy MacLean.

“The Janus ruling cannot be fully understood without recognizing the larger radical right minority project that produced it,” said MacLean.  “If that project is not stopped, and soon—by making use of the democratic tools we still have—we will find ourselves living in a country that none of us would recognize, and one that by design, will be almost impossible to change, even with supermajority demand for it.”

In the June 28th decision, Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court overturned a 40-year-old precedent, relied upon by over 20 states, to prohibit public-sector unions from collecting “fair share fees” from individuals represented by a public union who did not want their dues to support the union’s advocacy or political efforts.  Janus was the result of a years-long effort by a network of ultra-wealthy, conservative ideologues to cripple the political power of public employee unions, which traditionally support Democrats and progressive causes.  The decision comes as millions are recommitting to their unions, new organizing campaigns are being launched, and popular support for unions has risen to its highest level in 15 years.

“People get that unions are still the best vehicle people have to make a difference in their lives and in their workplaces,” said Weingarten.  “The same day that Janus was decided, 2,400 faculty at Oregon State University joined the AFT, and right now we are at our largest numbers ever.”

A study by Frank Manzo of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and labor professor Robert Bruno of the University of Illinois predicted that a ruling in favor of the plaintiff in Janus could cause public service unions to lose 726,000 members—a decline of more than 8 percent.  The study also concluded that the wages of state and local government employees would decrease by 3.6 percent on average, a $1,810 loss in wage and salary income per worker; the salaries of public school teachers would drop by 5.4 percent on average; and the decision would disproportionately impact African American workers, who are more likely to work in state and local government and are more likely to be union members.

“Billionaire-funded extremist groups like State Policy Network and Freedom Foundation have launched a series of aggressive attacks on working people like myself,” said Illinois home health care worker and union member Melody Benjamin.  “These attacks include using power and influence to push cases like Harris v. Quinn and Janus v. AFSCME to the Supreme Court, funding efforts to dismantle the foundation that supported a thriving middle class that we all count on to be there.”

Despite the Court’s ruling in Janus, an unprecedented wave of action by teachers and other public sector workers has led to a string of major victories for workers this year.  Following the protests in Arizona, teachers won a 9 percent raise in 2018-2019, a 20 percent pay raise by 2020, and increased funding for support staff and school resources.  Following a decade of declining funding for education in Oklahoma, teachers won pay increases for themselves and support staff, and are continuing to fight for increased funding and resources for their schools.  And walk-outs led to a 5 percent pay raise for West Virginia teachers and an executive order to fix the public employees’ insurance program.

Witness Testimony

Whitehouse opening and closing statements

Testimony of Nancy MacLean, William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy, Duke University and author of Democracy in Chains

Testimony of Christine Marsh, High School Teacher, Arizona

Testimony of Melody Benjamin, Home Health Care Worker, Illinois

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921