Supreme Court ruling on public unions: WNY weighs in

| NPR Buffalo

The Supreme Court decision that says government workers can’t be forced to contribute to labor unions is not ending any debate with several interest groups across New York pledging further activism.

Reaction to the ruling came swift from several labor unions and others across WNY and the state in a range of prepared statements released after the decision was announced.

The 5-4 decision Wednesday fulfills a longtime wish of conservatives to get rid of the so-called fair share fees that non-members pay to unions in roughly two dozen states.The justices are scrapping a 41-year-old decision that had allowed states to require that public employees pay some fees to unions that represent them, even if the workers choose not to join.

WBFO’S Albany Correspondent Karen DeWitt will have comprehensive analysis of the case this afternoon, but in the meantime here’s a sampling of some of the prepared statements on the decision:

Congressman Chris Collins  (NY-27):  “Today’s Supreme Court decision is a big win for government workers who, for far too long, have been forced to pay union fees in support of causes they are fundamentally against. Forcing an individual to join a political organization or government union goes against one of the greatest freedoms we are granted as Americans, the right to free speech. Any violation of the First Amendment is counter to the values our nation was founded upon and I applaud today’s monumental decision.”

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore: “The Supreme Court and the union-busting millionaires will not break our unions.  We will be stronger and our solidarity greater.  When attacked, we pull together to battle and prevail over those who would attack us”.

Public Employees Federation President Wayne Spence:  ” Today’s decision from the U.S. Supreme Court comes as no surprise. This case, Janus v American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) was backed by anti-worker extremists seeking to further rig the economy and limit the power labor has when unions are strong. The New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF), and other unions in New York state and around the country have been preparing for this decision with vigorous member engagement campaigns, involving thousands of one-on-one conversations with workers at all state agencies and departments about the value of being a union member. What the anti-union groups don’t understand is the power of our union comes from our members and their commitment to fight to better provide for their families and serve their communities, not from money! We will not let any court case stand in the way of our fight for good, union jobs that our communities need. We know when unions are strong, we have the power to raise wages, secure basic needs such as health care coverage and a dignified retirement, making life better for our families and our communities. No court case, no billionaire and no propaganda campaign can stop us. We are stronger together!

New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association President Michael Powers:  “The Supreme Court’s Janus decision is an affront to the hard-working union men and women of this country who throughout our nation’s history have fought for fair, equitable treatment for all workers in all fields. Despite this abominable decision, NYSCOPBA is proud to have helped craft and pass legislation in this year’s state budget that protects New York’s working class from the irreparable harm the Supreme Court is inflicting upon our nation. However, I will not mince words: If Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration truly wants to be a friend to labor, he should give due respect to the men and women of NYSCOPBA who serve to protect the citizens of New York from convicted criminals. NYSCOPBA will not rest until our members are treated fairly by the state.

From The Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank that concentrates on public pension related issues: “There are huge implications for New York State in today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling for the plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME, which will end compulsory collection of agency fees from public employees who choose not to join a government union.

New York has the nation’s most heavily unionized public sector: 1.2 of its 1.4 million government employees are unionized. The state’s government unions together constitute a major industry in their own right, annually collecting at least $862 million in dues and fees.

Roughly 200,000 state and local government workers not belonging to unions will now be in a position to save more than $110 million a year in previously compulsory agency-fee payments.      Another one million other New York government workers who joined unions assuming they had to pay dues or fees will now be in a position to reconsider their choice.

Governor Andrew Cuomo:  “The Supreme Court just did what Republicans and big business have sought to do for years—attempt to undermine the strength of the labor movement. But not here in New York. Not now, not never.

Let me be very clear: the flame of the labor movement burns stronger than ever here in New York. And so long as I am governor of the State of New York, the labor movement will continue to deliver on the promise of the American Dream.

New York is a union state. The labor movement was born here more than a century ago, when in the wake of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire New York became the first state to enact laws protecting workers. And it has continued to thrive in New York: today we are proud to have the highest rate of union membership in the country – more than double the national rate…”

Dan DiClemente, President of AFSCME Council 66: ” Rather than decide this case based on the law, activist judges have taken the extraordinary step of siding with corporations that are undermining workers’ rights across the country.    Members are more committed than ever to the Union because they all know their rights to join together to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and working conditions are at stake. This Supreme Court case will only reinforce our resolve and determination to move forward, and our union is in the strongest and best position to overcome any challenge that comes our way. The New York State Constitutional Convention referendum last year showed that when we fight to protect workers’ rights, we win.

New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood: ” “The right to organize is a fundamental American right that gives working people the power to improve their lives and the lives of their families. Today’s decision is a difficult setback, but it should also serve as a wake up call to redouble our efforts to protect workers’ rights. Here in New York, even prior to today’s decision, we passed a law that strengthens workers’ right to organize. Our office will use this law and all available avenues to protect public workers’ right to organize and promote government efficiency, labor peace, and worker strength.”

Heather C. Briccetti, Esq., president and CEO of The Business Council of New York State, Inc:  “Today’s decision by the U.S Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME is a welcome victory for employee choice and freedom of speech. Unfortunately for many New Yorkers directly affected by this issue, the impact of the decision will be limited due to a last-minute provision tucked into the recently adopted state budget. The provision significantly limits an employee’s timeframe and ability to opt-out of dues deductions, all but eliminating the freedom given to employees in other states thanks to the Janus decision.  It will be interesting to see if New York’s attempt to circumvent employee choice will be challenged in court.  In the meantime, it is unfortunate that New York lawmakers decided to put politics over their constituents’ ability to freely express themselves.”