In “Janus vs. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, 16-1466”), a case that was inches away from being ruled upon by the U.S. Supreme Court, but was providentially postponed by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, organized labor is now preparing to receive an imminent dose of very bad news.
Upon Scalia’s death, the court stood at 4-4, with justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor voting to deny Janus, and Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito voting to uphold his lawsuit. Unless something startling and totally unforeseen occurs, Scalia’s replacement, the conservative Neil Gorsuch, is expected to drive the final nail into the coffin.
Essentially, the Janus case hinges on whether a government employee in an “agency shop,” who has chosen not to join the union, is no longer required (per the 1977 “Abood” decision), to pay any union dues whatever.
Addressing that issue, Abood (“Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education)” made it abundantly clear that while a government employee has the right not to join the union that represents him, he can’t do so without having to donate a small portion of union dues. After all, fair is fair. It was the union that got him all these goodies. Freeloaders are frowned upon.
In an agency shop (as opposed to a “union shop,” where union membership is a condition of employment), an employee who truculently chooses not to join the union loses only three things, none of which are going to matter to him. He loses the right to attend union meetings, the right to run for a union office, and the right to vote in a union election.
Yet, for this “toy rebel,” it’s not what he loses; it’s what he gains. Not only will he continue to receive the same wages and benefits as a dues-paying union member, he remains entitled to full union representation (e.g., he still gets to use a shop steward to file grievances against management). Which is why the Abood decision was so vitally necessary.
Alas, Abood is almost certain to be overturned. And oddly, what makes its reversal so repellent isn’t simply the disgraceful and greedy “freeloading” part. It’s the naked hypocrisy that underlies it.
Although Janus proponents continue to self-righteously couch their argument in high-minded First Amendment rhetoric, this case is about nothing so much as old-fashioned, smash-mouth street politics.
Because organized labor has always been recognized as a loyal and dependable supporter (if, lately, an unrequited “partner”) of the Democratic Party, Republicans have been gnashing their teeth—nursing a grudge going all the way back to the New Deal—over the fact that elections can be won and lost on the basis of labor’s support.
Accordingly, the Republican Party has frantically been seeking ways to turn off the Labor-to-Democrats money spigot. Eliminating union dues that go directly into an AFL-CIO action fund is one ingenious way of doing it. One small step for man, one giant leap for the Angel of Death.
But instead of being honest about this strategy, they pretend that encouraging this sort of gutless freeloading (receiving union benefits without paying union dues) is exactly what the enlightened and visionary framers of the constitution had in mind when they established the Bill of Rights.
All of which leads one to the conclusion that Dante Alighieri, in his “Inferno,” knew exactly what he was talking about. In Dante’s depiction of the Underworld, each descending lower Circle of Hell represents a “worse” sin.
There are nine levels. The first, and least sinful Circle, is Limbo, where the spirits of unbaptized souls reside. Jumping down to Circle Six, we find the heretics. Dropping another notch, to Circle Seven, we find the murderers.
And a notch below that, in Circle Eight, is where we encounter the “hypocrites, seducers, and liars.” The Ninth and final Circle is reserved for betrayers and traitors. Brutus and Cassius (betrayers of Julius Caeser) are there, as is Judas Escariot.
Indeed, even Dante (1265-1321) realized how despicable hypocrites were. He put them beneath killers. Apparently, Dante had more respect for a garden variety murderer than an eloquent, sanctimonious hypocrite. Of course, the ability to appear noble and highly principled has always been a sure-fire way to attract followers. Rest in peace, Billy Graham.