By Laura Barrett
T he U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME case marked the latest victory for the right-wing program to
undermine unions and working people. While the
impact of the decision will reverberate for years to
come, the MTA and other public employee unions
are fighting back against an immediate onslaught:
corporate-sponsored efforts to manipulate people
into dropping their union membership.
“This is all part of the long-held dream of the
Koch brothers and other corporate billionaires to
‘defund and defang’ public employee unions,” said
MTA President Merrie Najimy, citing a memo by the
Koch-backed State Policy Network that outlined the
multipronged attack against public-sector unions.
“They are intent on weakening us so that they have
more leverage to privatize and slash public services
and pay less in taxes. We must make sure they don’t
In its ruling on June 27, the deeply divided court
overturned its own unanimous decision in Abood
v. Detroit Board of Education, decided in 1977. In
that case, the court balanced the interests of unions,
employers and nonmembers. It ruled that the U.S.
Constitution allowed public-sector unions to collect
a fair share fee — also called an “agency fee” —
from nonmembers for the costs of negotiating and
maintaining the bargaining agreements that provide
them with wages, benefits and protections.
But with the Janus decision, the majority —
over a stinging dissent by their fellow justices
— decided that the court that ruled in Abood was
A politically motivated decision
“It is very rare for the Supreme Court to
overturn its own decisions,” MTA General Counsel
Ira Fader noted. Najimy added, “This is clearly a
politically motivated decision. There is nothing just
While the National Education Association and
other unions filed briefs against the Janus case in
court, the ruling became a foregone conclusion when
the Republican-dominated Senate blocked then-
President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme
Court in 2016 and subsequently approved President
Donald Trump’s anti-labor nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
Immediately after the decision was issued,
the right-wing Michigan-based Mackinac Center
for Public Policy flooded the inboxes of educators
in states across the country, urging them to drop
their membership. Members in at least 50 locals
in Massachusetts reported receiving the e-mails in
“We have every reason to believe that the
drop efforts will continue in the future,” MTA Vice
President Max Page said.
The MTA immediately fought back against
the Mackinac attack, alerting members to the spam
e-mails and highlighting the fact that Betsy DeVos,
the much-reviled U.S. secretary of education, has
contributed heavily to the effort.
The attack seems to have had little impact, since
there were few requests to drop membership after the
e-mails went out. In fact, the effort may well have
backfired, with some members becoming offended at
the obvious attempt at manipulation.
The MTA’s response
The MTA’s All In campaign continues. In
preK- 12 locals, organizers and field staff worked
in dozens of districts during the school year and
then fanned out across the state over the summer to
knock on doors and talk to members one to one to
hear their concerns and discuss the benefits of the
Lynn Kaupp, a special education teacher in
Hingham, was happy to talk when a summer organizer
— a paraprofessional from Attleboro — knocked
on her door in mid-July. She told the organizer that
she is definitely “in” with the union, especially after
an experience in another district in which the school
administration did nothing to help her after she
reported being harassed and intimidated by a student
who had significant behavior issues. Her husband, a
state trooper, advised her to go to her union.
“I went to my building rep and it was action
right away,” she said. “I had 100 percent support
from our local president and also our MTA field rep.
The union dues are a drop in the bucket compared to
the support you are going to get.”
In the MTA’s public higher education chapters,
the focus has been on reaching out to agency fee
payers, talking to them about their concerns, and
asking them to become members.
The primary message to prospective members is
that a strong union empowers — giving members the
power to negotiate a fair contract, improve working
conditions, fight bad education and labor policies and
support pro-public-education initiatives at the local,
state and national levels.
This year there is also a special focus on signing
up newly hired educators early on by engaging
them in union activities and making sure they
feel welcome. Some local associations organized
gatherings for new hires over the summer and
many others are planning events for them during
orientation or on opening day.
The MTA is also continuing to work closely with
other unions. In preparing for the Janus decision and
in its aftermath, the MTA was an active participant
in the Massachusetts AFL-CIO’s Public Sector Task
Force. The task force organized a Working People’s
Day of Action when the case was argued in February,
shared materials and strategies throughout the
spring and summer, and responded with unity in the
media when the Janus decision was announced. The
coalition work will continue into the future.
What should individuals do?
If you are a member, stay a member. Talk to
your colleagues about the importance of a strong
union, and consider becoming more active in your
To keep your membership, you don’t have
to do anything. Your membership remains intact.
While some districts have been telling members
they have to re-sign membership cards, that is not
true, according to Fader and Massachusetts Attorney
General Maura Healey.
In a legal memorandum, Healey wrote, “The
Janus decision does not impact any agreements
between a union and its members to pay union dues,
and existing membership cards or other agreements
by union members to pay dues should continue to
be honored. The opinion only impacts the payment
of an agency service fee by individuals who decline
Regarding agency fee payers, local associations
were instructed to notify employers to cease
collecting those fees as of June 1 — and certainly
no later than the day the Janus decision was handed
down if they had missed the earlier deadline. Agency
fees no longer exist.
There were very few agency fee payers in the
MTA’s preK- 12 locals, but a larger number in public
higher education, particularly among adjunct faculty.
Adjuncts usually don’t have offices, and may work
at more than one institution, sometimes making
them less connected to their bargaining unit peers.
Yet adjuncts also have some of the greatest need for
union power and protections since they have little or
no job security and are often shortchanged on both
pay and benefits.
“The Janus decision is a classic example of both a
threat and an opportunity,” said Najimy. “It is a threat
because our opponents are intent on weakening us and
undermining our funding. It is an opportunity because
we know what needs to be done to remain strong. We
have to help our members experience themselves as
the union. This will happen when they are involved
in identifying the problems at their worksites, the
solutions to those problems and the actions they need
to take to achieve their goals.”
For more information on the All In campaign,
please visit www.massteacher.org/allin.
‘We have to help our members
experience themselves as the
union. This will happen when
they are involved in identifying
the problems at their worksites,
the solutions to those problems
and the actions they need to
take to achieve their goals.’
— MTA President Merrie Najimy