Massachusetts Democrats Rally With Unions As SCOTUS Hears Pivotal Janus Case

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By Katie Lannan

BOSTON — Blasting a Supreme Court case challenging union fees as an attack on the right to organize, labor leaders and elected officials on Monday gathered at the Boston Fire Department headquarters to pledge to continue to promote workers’ rights.

Janus v. AFSCME “is about those who have wealth and power in this country, they want more wealth and power at the expense of all of you,” AFSCME president Lee Saunders said Monday at a Boston union rally. “And you know what I say, sisters and brothers? They can go straight to hell because we’re fighting back like never before.” [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS]

“No Supreme Court decision will stifle the voice of workers seeking dignity and justice on the job with a union,” Rich Rogers of the Greater Boston Labor Council said at one of a series of rallies held throughout Massachusetts. “And our final message is, Boston is a union city today, it will be a union city tomorrow ,and it will be a union city forever.”

The coordinated rallies were timed to coincide with a hearing before the U.S Supreme Court involving a case plaintiffs hope will give workers a chance to opt out of public sector union agency fees. The lead plaintiff, Mark Janus, argues it violates his First Amendment freedom of association right that he must pay fees to the union AFSCME, despite not being a member.

Jacob Huebert of the Liberty Justice Center, one of Janus’ attorneys, said on C-SPAN that the bargaining undertaken by public-sector unions amounts to political advocacy because they are seeking to tell the government what to spend on salaries, which benefits to provide, and how to run its programs.

“We call that lobbying when anybody else does it, and you shouldn’t be forced to pay for somebody else’s lobbying as a condition of just taking a government job,” Huebert said.

The Pioneer Institute, which last summer signed onto an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to hear Janus v. AFSCME, said in a statement Monday that the case will have “important implications” for Massachusetts, where a group of educators have petitioned the Supreme Judicial Court to hear a case challenging compulsory union payments. The SJC will likely await an outcome in the Janus case before ruling on the petition, according to the institute.

“Union membership should never be banned,” Pioneer executive director Jim Stergios said in a statement. “Nor should it ever be compulsory.”

Speakers at the Boston rally said the Janus case was driven by wealthy business interests and aims to limit the power of unions.

“Today’s economy is rigged against working people in favor of the wealthy and the powerful,” AFL-CIO Massachusetts President Steven Tolman said. “It’s not by accident. Corporate CEOs and the politicians who do their bidding have written the rules in favor of their own special interest, and now those same corporate billionaires have taken the case Janus v. AFSCME to the Supreme Court, and it’s not done to help us.”

With Democratic gubernatorial candidates Setti Warren and Jay Gonzalez working the crowd and volunteers gathering signatures for candidates’ nomination papers, the event at times took on the feel of a campaign rally.

A series of union-backed measures are on track to appear on November’s ballot, including proposals to raise the hourly minimum wage to $15, establish paid family and medical leave, and limit the number of patients that can be assigned to one nurse.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is running for reelection, and a trio of Republicans — state Rep. Geoff Diehl, Beth Lindstrom and John Kingston — are vying to challenge her in November.

“We cannot lose this election in 2018. We need to win the United States Senate. Elizabeth Warren must go back and we must win a majority so that Donald Trump — ” Sen. Ed Markey said, pausing as the crowd’s cheers drowned him out. He continued, “We must win the Senate so that Donald Trump cannot name any additional anti-union Supreme Court justices in the United States of America. We must ensure that this year, the fight begins here in Massachusetts.”

The Supreme Court heard a similar case, Friedrichs v. California, in 2016, but its eight judges were deadlocked after the February 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia. President Donald Trump has since appointed Neil Gorsuch to the bench.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh encouraged ralliers to think about how elections affect them, their families and their working conditions.

“We have a senior senator from Massachusetts that there’s a few people making noise against her,” Walsh said, referring to Warren. “Let’s not take it for granted. Let’s make sure we hit the streets today and start talking about why we need to make sure the people … in public office understand the importance of working-class people, understand the importance of the middle class.”

Sen. Warren told the crowd that unions built, and will rebuild, the American middle class.

“We believe that government should not be for sale to the highest bidder and that government should work for working people, and we are willing to fight for it,” she said.

Monday’s rallies came as thousands of unionized state government workers continue to work under expired contracts while negotiations drag on with the human resources wing of the Baker administration.

Approximately 35,175 executive branch employees are organized in 13 bargaining units. An information statement published in December said negotiations were ongoing with the National Association of Government Employees, Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers and Scientists, and the New England Police Benevolent Association.

Though they did not participate in the speaking program, U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, state Reps. Marjorie Decker and Dan Ryan, state Sen. Paul Feeney, Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn and Governor’s Councilor Marilyn Devaney were all on hand for the Boston event.

Feeney, who co-chairs the Public Service Committee, was elected to the Senate last year after running with the support of his union, IBEW Local 2222, and the AFL-CIO.

“We’ve shown over the years, especially here in Massachusetts, that when workers are able to join together, everybody does better,” Feeney told the News Service. “You raise the wages of public sector, private sector workers, you raise the standard of living for workers that have union cards and those that don’t, so it’s important that we raise our voices here today, and regardless of what happens with this decision, that workers need to continue to stick together and fight against an administration that’s trying to take the power away from them.”