(For the TLDR version, jump to the last two paragraphs!)
Before this decision, different states had different laws about how unions collect money. States like Oregon had two categories for people in the bargaining unit: members and non-members. Non-members paid a “fair share” which could only be used for things related to bargaining and grievances. All of our other activities came from the additional amount members paid. CGE operated a little differently than the way many unions do, because OSU only took out the same percentage from everyone in our bargaining unit, so for anyone who did not want to pay full membership, they could request a refund of the difference from us directly. In so-called “right-to-work” states, unions could not charge the fair share (also sometimes referred to as “agency fees”) but were still required to represent anyone in the bargaining unit. This is much more difficult without the additional income. Studies showed that in non-right-to-work states, salaries were higher, employment among people of color and people with lower levels of education was higher, and more people were employed full-time (for more information, click here). When we come together it lifts everyone up, rather than just the ones who were already at the top.
Janus v. AFSCME involved a challenge to public employee agency fees on the basis of free speech. Essentially, they argued that bargaining itself was a political action that members of the bargaining unit should not be required to support, because it involves public funds and has supported the rights of groups like non-white racial groups, LGBTQIA+ people, and others whose rights are considered a matter of political opinion. There has also been a great deal of discussion around the implication that unions are improperly using these agency fees for political activities, which is simply not the case. CGE, for instance, conducts regular audits from an outside accountant to prevent this. Our rockstar business manager carefully categorizes all expenditures, even breaking up expenses for training and things like the AFT conventions based on what people engaged in while there. Nor does CGE consider the rights of any of our bargaining unit to be political opinion. (For a longer analysis, here is a statement from the general counsel for the National Education Association)
The timing of this case was no coincidence; there have been efforts over time, funded by large businesses and billionaires, to overturn the court case that originally ruled that states could decide whether they were legal. One of these cases ended with a tied Supreme Court after the death of Antonin Scalia, which is why it was so vital for the GOP to block President Obama’s Supreme Court appointment in the hopes of a conservative. Although both political parties are certainly funded by corporate interests, Democrats are generally more favorable towards organized labor.
So what does all this mean for CGE? Our budget is going to decrease significantly. The only income we have will be from people who have signed a membership card, either one of the blue ones or the online version. We have obligations to our staff and rent to pay that are not changing. Our large events and trainings must be scaled back or eliminated. We are still committed to supporting protections for our international members, improvement in the Corvallis housing market, expanding childcare options, addressing racial bias and harassment, and all the other initiatives we have been building, but we must do it with more in-person collective action and less money.
What can we do? Reach out to people and make them feel welcome in the union. We are a collective. The CGE is not the stewards or the executive council. CGE is everyone coming together to improve working and living conditions for everyone and building solidarity with each other and our different experiences. If you have suggestions for us, please reach out to our staff organizer, who is here to work for us and support the actions we bring him (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com), the executive council (https://www.cge6069.org/about/people/), or your department steward (https://www.cge6069.org/stewards/steward_council/) and we can help coordinate things. These people are not all-knowing; each brings their own perspective and experiences, but may not know how to help with other problems in a constructive way. The power of a union is in bringing everyone together to support each other.