Friday, July 12, 2019

Vernon Union In Compliance With Supreme Court But Not AFSCME Council 4

The larger principle underlying the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31 is this:  To compel people to give money to a cause of which they disapprove is the very definition of tyranny. The court decision ending the automatic deduction of union dues from employee paychecks naturally did not go down well with unions.
Recently, the town of Vernon bumped heads with union honchos. Administrator for the Town of Vernon Michael Purcaro has said that ending automatic union dues deductions protects the town, taxpayers and employees from any legal issues in the wake of the Janus decision. The town, attempting to bring itself into compliance with the Janus decision, ran afoul of AFSCME Council 4, according to a piece by Marc Fitch in The Yankee Institute, a non-partisan Connecticut think tank.

Prior to Janus, unions were able to extract fees from non-union members. Under the Taft–Hartley Act of 1947union security agreements can be allowed in the private sector by state law. In Janus, the high court ruled that union fees in the public sector violate the First Amendment right to free speech, thus overturning a 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education allowing such fees.

In the post Janus era, public sector unions must gain assent from rank and file workers before automatically deducting such fees, a requirement that will result in a loss of money to public worker unions. The high court's decision may also increase fee collection overhead among public sector unions -- if municipalities decline to process withdrawals from municipal employee paychecks on behalf of unions. It has never made sense that town workers, whose salaries are paid through municipal taxes, should serve as processing agents for unions, and  the processing after Janus is certain to become more complex and time consuming.
   
A new contract recently was negotiated , Fitch writes, “over the course of two meetings between Vernon officials and Vernon’s Parks and Recreation Director Martin Sitler, President of the Directors Independent Unit.” The negotiated settlement was effortless, Sitler said, because “’They offered us fair wages, fair working conditions. It was a very pleasant meeting and we resolved every single issue. I wouldn’t even call it a negotiation; it was just rational people sitting down to discuss issues.’”

The new contract had rightly eliminated automatic fee collection for municipal workers who had not assented to pay such fees; it also did not mention union release time and super-seniority, provisions that provoked a decree of separation issued by AFSCME Council 4 Director of Collective Bargaining and Organizing Kevin Murphy, who informed Sitler that Council 4 would no longer represent the bargaining unit if it continued to pursue the contract. 

“There were several changes that had to be made in the proposed document,” Murphy wrote, “and based on your email they haven’t occurred, the dues of which was only one of them (sic) and not necessarily the number one issue as you present it. Council 4 has pursued language that provides for union release time, super seniority, layoff protection to name a few, (sic) without them being included we will not represent you. I will forward a formal letter to you and the Town stating that Council 4 AFSCME no longer represents this group of employees.” 

Sitler pointed out to no avail 1) that his small bargaining unit could not continue to automatically collect fees from non-union members who had not freely assented to the payroll deductions without risking a costly lawsuit, 2) that provisions such as super-seniority were not applicable to his members because they were all department heads and couldn’t bump each other in the event of layoffs, 3) that his bargaining unit had offered to pre-pay several months of dues to AFSCME and then pay a dues invoice moving forward in exchange for AFSCME’s support of the contract, a proposal rejected by AFSCME, and 4) that the members of his bargaining unit  had found “AFSCME’s contract was too long and complicated,” according to the Fitch report.

And finally, Sitler pointed out “AFSCME Council 4 representatives arrived at their union meeting and were ‘pushing their own agenda. That really irritated everyone in our union.’” 

Flexing its legislative muscle, “AFSCME and other public sector unions had attempted to make union permission to cease dues deductions a matter of state law during the 2019 legislative session. House Bill 6935, which failed to pass in the Senate, would have forced municipalities and the state to rely on the union to inform them of who resigned membership and who could cease having dues deducted,” according to the Fitch account.

Town bargaining units spurned by AFSCME for complying with Supreme Court rulings are not altogether defenseless against such strong arm tactics. Vernon may be the canary in the mineshaft; it is by no means certain that AFSCME will not similarly force other towns to comply with possible unconstitutional edicts. Municipalities might easily consider collectively whether they should any longer wish to serve as collection agents for larger unions that compel people to give money to a cause of which they disapprove.

State employee unions are obligated under Janus to gain assent from workers BEFORE deducting fees. Then too, why are municipal workers used to collect fees for unions that may be in violation of their own First Amendment rights? Why shouldn’t AFSCME process and collect its own fees, rather than rely on tax supported municipal slave labor to do its work?



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