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California Unions Have Prepared For Janus

Andrew Harnik / AP Photo

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that government workers can't be forced to contribute to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining, dealing a serious financial blow to organized labor.

Andrew Harnik / AP Photo

The Supreme Court’s Janus decision could have far-reaching effects on California’s powerful public-sector labor unions, but those organizations have done as much as they can to mitigate the ruling before it arrived.

“We have been preparing for this ever since the election, and we knew that this was going to come down,” said Jeff Freitas of the California Federation of Teachers, at a rally of organized labor in Sacramento after the ruling on Wednesday.

The court’s 5-to-4 ruling found it unconstitutional for unions to charge “agency fees” to employees who aren’t members but benefit from collective bargaining. More than half of all public-sector workers in California are union members — almost 1.4 million workers. The Illinois Economic Policy Institute has estimated more than one in seven could leave in a post-Janus world. Unions have argued the ruling could cost them as much a third of their membership.

But Democratic state lawmakers, toward whom public-sector unions are some of the most powerful lobbyists and donors, have passed a series of measures as part of last year’s and this year’s state budgets that ensure unions have access to new employees, while restricting how employers contact them.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that puts new employees through an orientation with their prospective unions. Provisions in a state budget bill this year require unions sign-off any emails, flyers or letters that agencies may hand out about unionization, while further preventing employers from discouraging new employees from joining.

“Had this Janus decision not been on the watchlist or any day of an action, it probably would not have been the push in the Legislature this year,” Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento). “But it was, and we think it’s an important one to make sure that we can increase communication between representatives of organized labor and their members.”

Ben Bradford

State Government Reporter

As the State Government Reporter, Ben covers California politics, policy and the interaction between the two. He previously reported on local and state politics, business, energy, and environment for WFAE in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Read Full Bio 

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