CONNECTICUT IS NOW A “RIGHT-TO-WORK” STATE

In the recent decision, Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, et al, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for state and public-sector unions to deduct agency fees or any other payments to the union from a nonmember’s wages without their consent. The basis for the Court’s decision is that it is a violation of freedom of speech rights afforded by the First Amendment of the Constitution to force individuals to subsidize the speech and/or views of the union with which they may not necessarily agree.

What this means for unions in Connecticut:

This decision effectively makes all states, including Connecticut, “right-to-work” states. This means that employees in unionized work places cannot be required to join unions and further, if they choose not to join, they cannot be forced to pay agency fees, which amount to a portion of full member dues for the purpose of funding contract negotiations only. The obvious concern, and one of the arguments made in the case, is that if unions are unable to charge dues, many of the members will either disassociate or will become “free riders,” in that they will simply refuse to contribute voluntarily while continuing to reap union benefits. Without funding, the union would not be able to perform even the most basic functions such as contract negotiations and processing grievances. The ultimate concern is that this could mean the death of the union altogether.

Why you should care:

Once a union is formed, it becomes the sole representative of the employees within the bargaining unit. Only the union may negotiate with an employer regarding such matters as wages, sick leave, health insurance, and benefits, which items are then reduced to writing in the union’s collective bargaining agreement. This agreement acts as a sort of insurance to individuals that may otherwise have no guarantee to what some consider basic conditions of employment.

Namely, the standard collective bargaining agreement contains two very important provisions: the just cause provision; and the grievance provision. The just cause provision restricts an employer from discharging, demoting or otherwise disciplining an employee without just cause. This provision is significant because without it, employment is “at-will,” and termination can occur for any legal reason (i.e., excluding reasons based on gender, race or age discrimination, etc.). The grievance provision provides a procedure in instances where there has been a willful or even an inadvertent violation of any provision the agreement. The importance of this provision is that it holds both parties accountable.

Without a union, there would be no one to file a grievance on your behalf when your employer decides, in contradiction to the last collective bargaining agreement, to unilaterally reduce the amount of sick days you are entitled to take. In fact, there will be no grievance procedure to follow because the collective bargaining agreement will cease to exist altogether. When the employer decides not to give you a raise this year or even pay less than the last contractually stated rate, there will be no arbitration to which the union may resort (because there will be no union).

Why there is still hope.

Prior to the Janus decision, twenty-eight states were already right-to-work states, and managed to successfully maintain unions without forcibly extracting agency fees from non-members. Some states have enacted laws providing that if a non-member requests union assistance through the grievance procedure on his or her behalf, the union is authorized to charge the employee the reasonable cost of using such procedure. The Court seemingly approved of this law, opining that it would prevent free riders while also imposing a lesser burden on First Amendment rights. It may be time to lobby for similar laws here in Connecticut. Although the decision will undoubtedly require rallying of support of current members and possibly an increased effort to attract new members, unions in Connecticut could experience the same success as those twenty-eight states.

As a society, we pay insurance premiums to protect our vehicles and our homes, and life insurance premiums to protect our loved ones upon our demise. Without the insurance provided for in collective bargaining agreements, employees lose the protection of their very livelihood. It is important for current and prospective members to understand that while the thought of saving $50.00 a month by not paying union dues may seem tempting now, the eventual outcome could be far more costly.

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