July 08, 2019

IPI keeps up assault on union members

One year after Janus ruling, lawsuits seek fees already paid

Mark Janus, a one-time child support specialist in the Department of Healthcare and Family Services and fair-share member of AFSCME Council 31, was the front man for the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) and Bruce Rauner in their lawsuit challenging union fair-share fees.

With a firmly anti-union majority on the US Supreme Court, they prevailed there by a 5-4 margin—even though the decision overturned decades of precedent.

On the day the decision was issued in June 2018, Rauner was there, elbowing Janus out of the way to claim ownership of the suit and predicting that public employees would soon leave their unions in droves.

Things haven’t turned out as Janus, Rauner or the IPI had planned. Public employee unions have continued to grow all across the country, with many former fee-payers becoming full dues-paying members.

But Mark Janus isn’t done yet—and neither is the IPI.

Janus seeking “back pay”

Janus quit state government and is a paid employee of the IPI, traveling the country seeking to weaken labor unions.

In March, he tried and failed to squeeze out thousands of dollars from his former union. He went to federal court in Illinois to try get back all the fees he’d ever paid to AFSCME—though he didn’t offer to give back the pay raises, health care benefits or pension improvements that he benefited from over that time.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman rejected his claim, awarding him nothing and affirming that AFSCME had acted in good faith when it relied on a unanimous Supreme Court ruling of 40 years to set fees for represented employees who opted not to join the union.

That ruling echoed what more than a dozen other federal and state courts have decided in similar cases.

But the IPI is keeping up its anti-union assault, continuing to send mailers pushing AFSCME members and retirees to drop out.

The IPI is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on these mailings, trying to convince members to act against their own self-interest, because the Koch-funded organization wants to wipe out pensions and cut wages, but unions are the chief bulwarks against its efforts.

Class action suit filed

In May, a group of nine state employees filed a class-action lawsuit echoing Janus’ failed scheme and seeking $2 million in fee repayment for 2,700 state employees. The suit covers fees paid from May 1, 2017 (the earliest date possible under the state statute of limitations), to June 28, 2018, when the Supreme Court ended fair share.

The IPI, its Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation—the same groups behind the original Janus lawsuit—are also bankrolling this effort to drain resources from public employee unions.

“Non-members received wage increases, health insurance coverage, vacation time and other benefits that the union negotiated. They accepted these improvements and never objected to paying the related fees,” AFSCME Council 31 Public Affairs Director Anders Lindall told reporters covering the case.

“The anti-worker, corporate-funded front groups prolonging this failed litigation want to use the courts to further their political attack on working people and our union. Their repeated lawsuits are nothing but a greedy grab for more.”

Union members fighting back

AFSCME members and retirees aren’t taking these assaults lying down. They’re fighting back by becoming stronger than ever.

“AFSCME members can help defeat the IPI’s game plan by signing an AFSCME Strong card today,” Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said.

“Let’s continue to build a strong union and lead the fight for fairness for all public-service workers.”  

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