Here’s How A Supreme Court Decision Could Lead To Another Wave Of Teacher Protests

We saw what happened back in the spring when “pension reform” was all the buzz in Kentucky. Teachers got a sewage bill, Frankfort got a whole lot of protesters, and Matt Bevin got sued.

Teachers unions like the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) were critical opponents of that debacle in this year’s General Assembly, and now, they are bracing themselves yet again for another uphill battle.

This latest potential blow takes the form of a Supreme Court case called Janus v. AFSCME, which could be poised to permanently weaken revenue and membership for all public sector unions. If that’s the case, state capitals across the U.S. might get their own taste of the Bluegrass State, with another round of protests and #RedForEd rallies waiting just on the horizon.

ICYMI: The Janus Case, Explained

Mark Janus is a state employee in Illinois, one of the 22 states that requires workers to pay “agency fees” even if they’re not union members. The idea behind this is that all workers, whether they’re union members or not, end up benefiting in the long run from the bargaining efforts that unions undertake, so it’s only right that they should pay their fair share.

Janus, who is one of these non-union employees, has paid thousands of dollars in agency fees to a union called The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which is a powerful and very politically-involved union in Janus’ home-state, and that’s where things get hairy.

Janus doesn’t agree with some of the political stances that the union has taken, but his money has been going to those causes anyway because Illinois has required him to pay those “agency fees.” That’s triggered a Supreme Court case that, once decided, could be consequential for the membership and revenue of unions like the AFSCME.

Here’s What The Ruling Could Mean

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Janus, as unions fear, those same unions would lose the right to collect “agency fees” from non-union workers. In other words, a ruling for Janus would mean that teachers and other state employees would no longer be forced to pay unions anything unless they choose to be members.

That would effectively turn every state into “right-to-work” states, which tend to have lower union membership than other states.

That’s the issue at large for a lot of pro-union teachers and staff, who already feel disenfranchised by the defunding of public education and the inflammatory remarks of those responsible. And keep in mind that it’s not just a Kentucky thing — West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma all had their own bouts of activism, and for what it’s worth, they’re all right-to-work states as well.

The intensity of those rallies are unprecedented, writes the National Education Association’s Jason Walta, and could spell out what a post-Janus future would look like for the 22 states most effected. As Walta writes for the American Constitutional Society:

The scene playing out now should put the Supreme Court on notice as it considers a ruling in Janus v. AFSCME. It is no coincidence that West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona are all so-called “right to work” states with weak or no public-sector collective-bargaining laws. In states like these — where anti-union laws frustrate educators’ ability to come together to advocate for quality public schools through the stable, formal channels of mature collective bargaining — the only meaningful option available is for educators to press their demands through mass protest and the disruptions in public services that those entail.

While it’s not clear what effect, if any, the Janus case will have on students or school performance, it seems more likely than not that a ruling in favor of Janus would lay the groundwork for more protests to come.

So for neighboring states like Illinois or Ohio, watch out — there could be a big red wave coming toward you soon.


Photo by Flickr.

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