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The Janus Case: What Will Be, What Could Be

The forthcoming Janus v. AFSCME decision is going to seriously hinder labor unions as we know them. The suit goes after the ability of unions to collect dues, a precedent that was created by the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision, and would turn the entire public sector “Right to Work” overnight.

On May 21, we were given a sneak preview of the Janus decision when Neil Gorsuch penned the 5-4 majority opinion ruling that workers may not file a class-action lawsuit against employers who violate federal labor laws. What was so instructive about Gorsuch’s May opinion is that he cited a 1925 law that pre-dated the National Labor Relations Act, meaning for explicitly ideological purposes the majority simply nullified a law from a later date that had been written specifically to update the earlier law. This is a Court that is willing to break with every principle of jurisprudence possible so to reach their ultimate goals. Furthermore, Gorsuch’s May opinion would work hand-in-hand with the Janus decision to hinder First Amendment lawsuits that progressive legal thinkers have been (rather fancifully) claiming as the silver lining of these cases.

I have spoken already to several people in the know who have a grasp of the post-Janus AFL-CIO plan of action. Per that body’s usual milquetoast strategy, it’s essence is able to be characterized as fighting a three-alarm inferno with piss. An older organizer has said that, in a very short time, we will remember American labor the same way that we recall the glory days of the telegraph and Morse code.

But what if there were another way?

There is.

Unfortunately, because the AFL-CIO is not interested in this sort of logic, it probably would never happen.

What I would like to propose is the following.

Unions could very easily have their locals convert over to worker-owned employment agencies. This is the framework embraced by Richard Wolff and his Democracy at Work project, though his notion of a ‘worker self-directed enterprise’ is at slight variance with what I am suggesting herein because the workers already have existing careers that serve as the job placement. Union members would become subcontractors while dues would become an obligation of cooperative ownership as opposed to the current paradigm of membership.

If the public sector were to engage with worker-owned employment agencies, much in the way that private sector engages with corporate employment agencies already, the cooperative unions would rather quickly and with little effort be able to revolutionize their relationships with both workers and their employers. Because of their already-extant large membership pools, such employee-owned agencies would be eligible for the various tax credits and breaks that big businesses have been taking advantage of for decades. Within such an enterprise, these reborn unions could develop benefit packages for their membership internally that could maintain quality of life standards while potentially offering cost reductions for the public sector.

How?

If the public sector were relieved of the line-items for employee benefits and offloaded them to the internal worker-owned employment agency, this would fall within the purview of the aforementioned corporate tax credits and breaks. Labor-friendly legislators would be able to develop further legal devices to benefit these large employers. It bears mentioning that many of the Building and Trades unions in America today already are halfway within this model, many of their members go to the union hall and its business agent for job assignments much in the way that their non-union contemporaries go to employment agencies.

Now here is the real kicker: this conversion would potentially offer both increased benefits and pay for worker-owner union members and reduce costs for the public sector.

Why?

In the traditional corporate employment agency, the business contracts with local enterprises to send laborers to their workplaces on a daily basis. At the end of the week, they send a bill to the local enterprises. The formula can be defined in the following terms:

Worker Pay + Placement Fee = Total Bill Per Diem x 5 Business Days

That’s very rudimentary and leaves out a lot of sub-divisions of the worker pay into things like Social Security or Medicare and other taxes but it maintains validity.

If you subtract that placement fee, the Total Bill Per Diem is reduced in cost, which in layman’s terms is called under-bidding the competition. After decades of public sector unions being seen as the bane of taxpayers, the AFL-CIO would be able to come forward with a proposal for cost reduction in the budgets nationwide.

 

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Andrew Stewart is a documentary film maker and reporter who lives outside Providence.  His film, AARON BRIGGS AND THE HMS GASPEE, about the historical role of Brown University in the slave trade, is available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video or on DVD.

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