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Jewish Labor Committee Denounces Janus Court Case against Public Sector Workers

February 26, 2018: New York, NY - As attorneys argue a U.S Supreme Court case today that could decimate public sector unionism in the United States, the Jewish Labor Committee denounces the forces at work behind this lawsuit and supports the efforts of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to defend against it.

Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 was backed by conservative industrialists and think tanks, including Richard Uihlein, an Illinois shipping supply magnate, and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

Under current law, public sector unions generally have the right to collect a fee, a “fair share,” from all workers they represent in collective bargaining. No worker is required to join the union. Moreover, both union members and fair share participants can opt out of paying political action or other costs not associated with contract issues.

Jonathan D. Rosenblum, executive director of the Jewish Labor Committee stated: “In most of the world, the ‘right to work’ means the right to obtain a sustaining job. Only in America has that term been hijacked to mean the right to defect from community by refusing to support with dues payments (or service fees) the elected workplace association-- that is, the union.”

Rosenblum added: “The Janus case is part of a long-standing campaign by conservatives to undermine quality state-based public sector jobs that historically have been especially important to women and minorities."

Rosenblum pointed out that “right to work” in the U.S. is historically grounded in the white supremacy movement. Texas lobbyist and white supremacist Vance Muse began the movement in the 1940s, alongside his work fighting women’s suffrage and seeking to avoid U.S. child labor protections.

As Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once declared, “Right-to-Work” laws are a favorite instrument of the leaders of the White Citizen Councils and the Klan.”

The JLC, through Philadelphia JLC Board Member Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, is a co-signer of the “Faith in Public Life, Religious Organizations & Faith Leaders” amicus brief supporting AFSCME’s position in the case. That brief states in part that, “Social justice for laborers has deep roots in scripture and tradition and the importance of unions has been acknowledged by organized religion since the nineteenth century. In addition to expressing our denominational support for unions, amici are also interested in protecting the rights of our community members, our parishioners, to form and be part of fully functional unions.”

The brief also points out that “Jewish leaders, along with our Catholic and Protestant counterparts, have always supported the labor movement and the rights of employees to form unions for the purpose of engaging in collective bargaining and attaining fairness in the workplace.” In 2005, the Union for Reform Judaism resolved “to support the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively,” and to oppose the adoption of “right-to-work” laws that hinder unions’ ability to function.