By: Eric Rosso
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a case that revolved around the administration of collectively bargained contracts for public sector union members.
The outcome of this case could potentially have devastating effects on wages, benefits, and protections for working families.
While the anti-union funders behind this case would like you to believe this is about issues of free speech, this case is truly about political power, structural inequality, and the future balance between labor and capital throughout the United States.
To be clear, the Janus V. AFSCME case is the culmination of 40 yearsof a handful of anti-union billionaires and their front groups carrying out a mission aimed at weakening labor unions for purely political reasons.
At its core, this case is about taking away power and money from working families to redistribute it to the already incredibly rich and well-connected.
If they’re successful in their mission, the billionaire funders, who have been shepherding anti-union cases through the courts for the last decade, would exacerbate income inequality, structural racism and sexism, and take political power away from the average voter.
These are not side effects of the case, but intended purposes.
Bankrolling these efforts are a handful of anti-union organizations, including the State Policy Network and the National Right To Work Foundation.
These organizations are front groups for their billionaire funders, which include Pennsylvania’s Scaife Foundation among a handful of other dead billionaires’ foundations, set up with the intentionality of obscuring who’s behind them and to create right-wing political pressure networks in states. In Pennsylvania, the state based affiliate of these legally questionable non-profits is the Commonwealth Foundation.
Leading up to the hearing, a handful of talking points about the case were distributed by the State Policy Network. These talking points state how to avoid discussing the case to best hide their true intention. In unscripted moments, looser lips let the truth slip.
The president of the State Policy Network, Tracie Sharp, was quoted as saying, “when you chip away at one of the power sources that also does a lot of get-out-the-vote, I think that helps,” in reference to politically motivated attacks on unions. In fact, a recent prospecting letter from the State Policy Network spelled it out more explicitly stating their goals as defunding labor unions.
This is not without reason. All of these organizations have various connections to Republican politicians.
When one of the State Policy Network affiliates sued the government to avoid disclosing the sources of their funding for election activities, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., came to their defense in an amicus brief arguing to allow them to continue hiding their funders, as did the aforementioned National Right To Work Foundation.
An academic paper recently spelled out why the State Policy Network, and by extension Republican leadership, are so interested in anti-union laws. In states that have passed them, voter turnout is 2 to 3 points lower due to the lack of voter contact programs by labor unions. These attacks are another extension of the voter suppression strategy currently deployed by the right-wing.
While the partisan reasons behind this anti-union strategy are barely disguised, there’s a host of real world implications for workers, especially for people of color and women. Public sector professions have long been a great equalizer in this country, paving the way for accumulation of black middle-class wealth and greater protections for women on the job.
Black women now have the highest share of public employment and would be affected the most by a Janus v. AFSCME ruling against public sector unions.
In addition, whether in partnership with the #BlackLivesMatter movement or in defense of immigrants across the country, labor unions have long fought for civil rights. Civil rights are union rights and union rights are civil rights.
Many of the anti-union laws that have been attempted in Pennsylvania and are championed by organizations like the State Policy Network affiliates have racist origins. In fact, the “right-to-work” law this case could essentially de-facto impose, was originally thought up as a way to drive a wedge between white and black workers to bust unions.
The language on some of the original flyers advocating for this were despicable, referring to black males in explicitly racist terms. The Koch Brothers’ father bankrolled some of these early right-to-work efforts. It should come as no surprise that the State Policy Network shares funders with some of the leading white supremacist organizations nationally.
The case for rejecting the line of thinking that led to Janus v. AFSCME is long and storied. The Supreme Court should reject it alone for the giant historical step backwards it would mean for all workers.