Janus Case: Why Public Unions are Being Targeted

February 15, 2018

From 2/15/2018 email to PSU members:

Last week we introduced the Janus case and this week we’ll dig a little deeper into why public sector unions are being targeted.  This is extremely important and will only take a couple of minutes to read, so please do. 

So, why are public sector unions being targeted now?

Here are three main reasons:

1.  This is part of a long-term war on labor, which is well documented in many places and the results of which are seen here:

Chart of Union Membership Percent of All US Workers 1948 to 2010 - showing decrease from 32% to 11.9%

  And it’s because private sector unions have already been greatly diminished:

        union membership since 1983 - showing increase by 32% for public and decrease by 40% for private

  so now it is the public sector’s turn:

 union membership by percent of employees 1948 to 2012 - showing Public increasing from 12% to 38%, private and overall membership decreasing from 32% to 34% down to 9% to 13%

2.  The attack on public employee unions is also part of the war on democratic and progressives values.

Labor unions are the biggest single funders of progressive campaigns and Democratic Party candidates:

 unions backing of candidates in dollars - 93% to Democrats and 7% to Republicans

But political contributions from labor pale in comparison to what just the Koch brothers alone put into politics, so it looks like right-wing and corporate interests won’t stop until they have it all.

 Political spending during the 2012 election by Koch ($412M) compared to top 10 unions ($153M)


Labor unions are one of the few forces left for the right to contend with.  Public service unions are a big part of what stands in the way of the ever-increasing privatization of what should be public goods such as schools, roads, water, and land.  It was labor, working in coalition with community and civic non-profits, that defeated Question 2 on Charter Schools in Massachusetts and that just pushed back the latest plan to restructure the GIC.  The same coalition of Labor and non-profits have put the Fair Share tax, the $15 minimum wage, and paid sick time for all workers on the state ballot this coming November.  

3.  Labor unions stand in the way of right-wing greed and power

A brief history lesson:

  • Unions grew in the 1930s and the right has fought them ever since.
  • Unions brought us the 8 hour day and the 5 day, 40 hour week.
  • Unions brought us pensions, paid vacation, holidays, and health care.
  • Unions brought us overtime, comp time, worker’s comp, and more.
  • Unions helped establish fair wages and relative income equality.
  • Unions lift wages for all workers by raising prevailing wages.

 median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers, 2010 - broken down by demographic groups showing union wages higher in each case


With Janus, the right hopes that workers will jump at the immediate gains of not paying dues and not see the bigger picture, just like they structured the recent tax cuts to give small, temporary cuts to workers in order to distract us from the massive, permanent cuts that corporations and the wealthy received, cuts that will run up the national debt and that are therefore planned to pay for themselves by slashing social programs that benefit working people, the poor, and the communities we live in.  

This all comes after decades of PR campaigns designed to create resentment against the wages and benefits that union workers have, wages and benefits that in fact lift the bar for all and hold the line against another race to the bottom.

Attacks on unions are attacks on the middle class.


 as union membership declines, the share of income going to the middle class shrinks - 1968 to 2013


        And as the middle-class shrinks, we know where the money goes:

 unions and shared prosperity - 1918 to 2008 - the share of income going to the top 10% is the inverse to a graph of union membership

In Wisconsin, after legislation similar to what Janus will bring was enacted, a lot of people chose to quit their unions, which really weakened the unions and within 5 years public sector workers had lost almost 20% of their benefits and up to 10% of their pay, leading to a sharp upturn in the number of people who left the profession or changed jobs for better pay and benefits in more affluent districts.

 Wisconsin teachers saw a sharp drop in benefits after Act 10 passes in 2011 - benefits in dollars from 2006 to 2016

At UMass, we need to stick together and focus on the long-term picture.  In states where workers have organized and kept their memberships high, wages and benefits have stood up to these assaults.  We can do the same.