On Monday, Feb. 26, several members of the West Chester University chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty (APSCUF) operated an information table in the lobby of Main Hall in support of the Working People’s Day of Action. They handed out fliers and spoke to students occupying the lounge area about important issues regarding rights for union workers. This year’s efforts coincided with the commencement of the Supreme Court hearings on the Janus v. AFSCME case regarding public sector unions and the First Amendment.
Central to the case is plaintiff Mark Janus, a non-union child-support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. According to a 1977 court ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Educators, non-union members can be required to pay an agency fee to the public union under the rationale that the union’s work benefits both union and non-union members. Janus objected to the $45 per month agency fee deduction from his paycheck, and argued that paying it as a non-union employee violated his First Amendment right to free speech. The defendant, The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, disagrees and maintains that nullifying this arrangement will lead to an onslaught of “free riders”–non-union members who do not pay any fees but still enjoy the collective bargaining work the union performs on their behalf.
Tensions between supporters and opponents of unions are running high in anticipation of the ruling. The mainstream thought is that given the recent addition of the conservative justice Neil Gorsuch, the court will likely rule in Janus’ favor, thus dealing a blow to the public labor union’s authority. This is precisely the outcome that West Chester University faculty members Curry Malott, professor of educational foundations and policy studies and Seth Kahn, professor of English, want to avoid. Both men are co-mobilization chairs of the WCU chapter of the union and have been working to educate the public about the case. “This whole campaign is about killing unions, so that people who own things and want to own more things have less organized fight-back,” Kahn said.
However, not everyone agrees with Kahn’s assertion. One notable dissenter is Republican State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner. Wagner has a history of criticizing the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), and he recently stated, “The union bosses have made sure that everybody has been highly taken care of and they are driving you into bankruptcy. So, for those of you who think your schools are going to be around four years from now, they ain’t going to be around.” Wagner also voted against the 2017-2018 state spending bill, which increased funding for the State System. Even so, according to professor of music theory and composition and Chapter President Mark Rimple, the union has “supporters in both parties in Pennsylvania and we have open dialogue with members of both parties.”
The last time the union was in the spotlight was October 2016, when faculty from all 14 universities in the State System went on strike after a contract could not be negotiated. However, public demonstrations and picket lines are not predicted as the result of a decision handed down from the court. Instead, Kahn said there will be a renewed effort on making sure all eligible employees become union members.
Olivia Bortner is a third-year student majoring in marketing. ✉ OB876952@wcupa.edu.