More than 10,000 people picketed Saturday in Manhattan to demand that the U.S. Supreme Court keep allowing dues-collecting labor unions to require government employees to pay, including unwilling workers who oppose the organization’s politics.
Public-sector unions fear that an adverse ruling by the court would jeopardize their ability to collectively bargain in 22 states, including in New York, which has America’s highest rate of union membership.
“If the Supreme Court carries Donald Trump’s political water — and if the Supreme Court tries to end organized labor — this state will do everything in its power to protect it,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, told Saturday’s crowd in Foley Square.
Asked how the state would continue to allow compulsory union dues in case of an adverse Supreme Court ruling, Cuomo spokeswoman Abbey Fashouer emailed: “There is no ruling at this point. When we have a ruling and understand its impact, we will take all steps to protect and support the right to unionize in this state.”
At the rally, Cuomo said that neither he nor his father, Mario Cuomo, could have been elected governor without organized labor’s support. More than two of three public sector employees are unionized, according to news reports.
At issue is the case Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, scheduled for oral arguments Monday.
Plaintiff Mark Janus, a California child-support specialist, says his First Amendment free speech and association rights are being violated every time he is forced to pay $45 a month in fees to support a group he opposes.
Backers of mandatory contributions say that workers like Janus benefit from the pay that the union collectively bargains on workers’ behalfs, that the status quo prevents freeloading and is in line with a 1977 ruling that Janus seeks to reverse. At Saturday’s rally, union members jeered the possibility.
“I’ll give up my union card when you pry it from my cold dead hand,” read a cardboard sign held skyward by a member of 32BJ SEIU, the building-service union.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said to cheers that he hoped the rally would sway the justices, but added: “Now, I’ve got no illusions about the Supreme Court — not a single one — but New York City will stand with labor and demand the Supreme Court respect the rights of labor all over this country!”
In 2016, the justices appeared close to overruling mandatory contributions, but Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative jurist, died that year and the court deadlocked.
Frank Gambina, 57, a Local 3 electrician who called union membership “the best thing that ever happened to me in my life,” stood on Centre Street holding a sign: “The corporate agenda = elimination of collective bargaining.”
He brushed off the Supreme Court plaintiff’s complaint that no one should be forced to contribute to union efforts.
“If you’re in a union, you pay union dues,” said Gambina of Flushing, Queens. “It’s part of being in union.”