Speed Reads

Union Busting

The Supreme Court is hearing a labor case likely to significantly hit unions, Democrats

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a case challenging the fees non-union public sector workers pay to unions to bargain on their behalf. If the five conservative justices side with the plaintiff, Illinois public employee Mark Janus, as expected, the projected loss in union funds and membership would significantly harm both the unions and the Democratic politicians they mostly support, according to political science research. Janus is being financed by a handful of well-coordinated conservative groups, notably the the Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, both bankrolled by Illinois industrialist Richard Uihlein, and Wisconsin's Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

A recent paper by Columbia's Alexander Hertel-Fernandez and two colleagues found that the Democratic share of the presidential vote dropped an average of 3.5 percentage points in states that enacted so-called right-to-work laws. That's greater than the margin of error in several states that supported Republicans, and "four key midwestern and midwestern-adjacent states went right-to-work during the five years before the 2016 election, and all four — Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and West Virginia — went for Donald Trump," Politico notes. The ruling could harm Democratic candidates as soon as the 2018 midterms.

"It's a mistake to look at the Janus case and earlier litigation as isolated episodes," Hertel-Fernandez tells The New York Times. "It's part of a multipronged, multitiered strategy," that includes the Koch brothers and the Federalist Society, Uihlein and the Bradley Foundation, among other groups. "They're all working with one another," he said. "You don't see the same thing on the left."