Reaction along party lines to SCOTUS union decision

Plaintiff Mark Janus stands outside the Supreme Court after the court rules in a setback for organized labor that states can't force government workers to pay union fees, Wednesday, June 27, 2018, in Washington.

Plaintiff Mark Janus stands outside the Supreme Court after the court rules in a setback for organized labor that states can't force government workers to pay union fees, Wednesday, June 27, 2018, in Washington.

The fears of Connecticut unions were realized on Wednesday when the Trump Supreme Court continued what has become a national campaign by conservatives to hobble organized labor.

It will become tougher for unions to collect the millions of dollars they use to pay staff, lobby and file grievances, following the 5-4 ruling of the high court that is bound to hamper the effectiveness of a nationwide labor movement dating back to the early years of the 20th century.

Their anxiety was exacerbated by Wednesday’s announcement that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy plans to retire at age 81, giving the president another appointment to swing the jurists further to the right.

Democrats and union leaders across the board decried the court’s decision, saying it undermines the rights of public workers. But as recently as last Friday, during the nominating convention of the state AFL-CIO, union leaders had anticipated that the court would attempt to hobble their dues-collecting procedures.

In fact, unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 4, representing 30,000 workers, has been signing up individual workers for months, following previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings provoked by conservative groups including the conservative-billionaire Koch brothers. Officials from AFSCME said Wednesday that the union’s political action committee is funded by voluntary contributions, not basic dues, which for an average worker is about $42 a month.

State union officials said they could not estimate what the high court decision might cost them because of workers opting out of paying dues.

Alex Guzman, a maintenance mechanic who is president of AFSCME Local 2311, representing Park City Communities employees in Bridgeport, the city’s former housing authority, said that in particular, Latinos like himself who are members of unions have average incomes of 35-percent more than those who do not have union protections.

“This decision aims to destroy the freedom of workers to join together in strong unions to speak up for ourselves, our families and our communities, just like we do in Bridgeport,” Guzman said.

Nationally, since its peak in the years after World War II, union membership has been declining.

“Make no mistake, this decision is about more than just public sector unions - it’s about chipping away at the entire labor movement,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

Moments after the decision, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Democratic candidates for governor Ned Lamont and Joe Ganim all issued swiftly-issued written statements, calling the decision an attack on collective bargaining, working families and the middle class.

But Eric Gjede, legal counsel for the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said Wednesday that it will take some time to assess the decision.

“The long term impact of the ruling is unknown at this time,” Gjede said in an email. “Just like any other organization, it is now on the public-sector union leadership to demonstrate their value to their membership.”

Moments after the decision was announced, President Trump weighed in, tweeting “Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!”

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, the endorsed Republican candidate for governor, said the ruling is a victory for people across Connecticut.

“Working families will no longer be forced to monetarily support causes that they may not agree with,” Boughton said in a statement. “Now that decision will properly rest with the individual. Allowing workers to choose how and where they donate to political causes is a fundamental right guaranteed by the 1st amendment and should never be a condition of employment.”

David Stemerman, the Republican multimillionaire who is funding his own campaign for governor, used the ruling as a chance to criticize Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

“Of course Gov Malloy is defending the union bosses that got him in office in the first place, at the expense of CT families & businesses,” Stemerman wrote on Twitter.

Lori Pelletier, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, the umbrella organization with 220,000 members, blamed billionaires and corporate CEOs for the decision.

“They know that unions give workers a powerful voice in speaking up for themselves, their families, and their communities,” she said.

In all, there are about a quarter million unionized workers in the state.

Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, a union organizer challenging Susan Bysiewicz for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, said employees that enjoy union benefits of a negotiated contract should pay the same membership fees as union members.

“If you have the benefits negotiated through the power of a union, it is only fair to have to chip in for that,” she said. “I think most people across Connecticut would agree with that rationale.”

Her primary opponent Bysiewicz tweeted: “Another assault on the middle class by a right wing activist judiciary.”