Orange County Register: Can California’s public employee unions thwart U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision?

By Margot Roosevelt | The Orange County Register | June 27, 2018

Soft spoken and bespectacled, Diana Corral, a 36-year old Orange County social worker, hardly fits the stereotype of union boss.

“I love my job because I love helping people,” she said of her work as an eligibility specialist who guides the poor, the disabled and the homeless in applying for food stamps, Medi-Cal heath insurance and cash assistance.

But as president of Local 2076 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, with 1,450 members, Corral is one of hundreds of public-sector union leaders on the warpath across California to counter the effect of Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, Janus v. AFSCME.

The decision, overturning four decades of legal precedent, outlawed so-called “fair-share” or “agency” fees levied by government unions. The fees, paid by workers who decline to join a union, have offset the costs of collective bargaining. As unions are forced to represent so-called free riders, analysts predict widespread defections of dues-paying members, crippling the labor movement and its allies in the Democratic Party.

But in California, with 1.5 million union-covered public employees and a labor-friendly legislature, that assumption might be wrong.

The Janus case “riled people up,” Corral said. “It sparked something in us. We see the inequity; the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. More of our members want to organize to fight for the working class; to protect what little we still have.”

At her Anaheim local, that has meant new “member action teams” fanning across 14 work sites, asking colleagues to sign “commitment cards.” The cards, which she said have been signed by more than 90 percent of her members, legally re-enroll them for a year or until their bargaining contract expires.

Over two years, 150 of the local’s 200 non-union fair-share payers — those who paid $12.42 in biweekly fees, rather than full dues of $19.34 — signed up to become full-paying members.

Supreme Court cases

The cards are part of a statewide, below-the-radar organizing push launched after a 2014 Supreme Court case, Harris v. Quinn, that allowed homecare workers to drop fair-share fees. Conservative groups and business interests then backed a broader suit filed by Orange County teacher Rebecca Friedrichs to abolish the fees at all public sector unions.

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