How Mark Janus benefits from his union

Posted Jun. 20, 2018 by

Mark Janus is the public face of a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that could make the entire country “Right to Work” for public employees like teachers, firefighters, correction officers and highway workers. The case, Janus vs. AFSCME, will determine whether or not “fairshare” members of public employee unions have to pay their fairshare of dues from the benefits and representation they receive under union contracts. Under current law, they do, unless the state has passed a law saying otherwise.

But Mark Janus, like other fairshare members of unions are already reaping the benefits of unions, and some of them may not even realize it.

Donnie Killen, who works in the same building with Mark Janus in the same child support agency in Illinois, wrote a story about how Janus is already benefiting from union representation. Much of her piece (excerpted below) sounds familiar to us here in Ohio.

For example, OCSEA has been out in front against privatization and the consolidation of state for decades. The union has fought off attempts to privatize all sorts of state agency functions including massive IT projects, the Ohio Turnpike, the Ohio Lottery, the ODOT sign shop, and more prisons. We’ve been at the forefront of attempts to consolidate state agencies. One legislative initiative tried to reduce the number of state agencies down to just 11. We’ve fought to keep the state employee pension healthy and now have representation on the board with OCSEA Pres. Chris Mabe. Our leaders and staff work daily in labor/management committees to ensure workplaces are safe and processes are fair and no one is left behind.

In negotiations, we blocked the state from really ratcheting up copays and deductibles in health care and we stopped their attempt to eliminate seniority in promotions. We held firm on wages and were awarded an 8.5 percent increase over three years. Management wanted to give employees just 5.5. We made the case for almost doubling shift differential. Personal leave got back to something more reasonable where after an initial two-hour period, employees can take it in smaller increments. And a first-time vacation cash-out, will put money in our members’ pockets at the end of the year.

So whether they know it or not, all our members—including fairshare members––are reaping the benefits of being union strong. We just need to convince them to join us.

Here’s an excerpt from Killen’s piece that appeared in LaborNotes #470.

I Work with Mark Janus. Here’s How He Benefits from a Strong Union.

1. Without our union, Mr. Janus’s job would probably have been outsourced by now.

A drastic provision in the state’s “last, best, and final offer” in 2016 would have given Governor Rauner the right to outsource and privatize state employees’ jobs without accountability. Our union is all that’s preventing critical public services from being privatized.

2. Mr. Janus has received $17,000 in union-negotiated raises.

Over his years working for the state, Mr. Janus has earned general wage increases and steps that would not have been guaranteed if not for the union.

3. The public—including the parents and kids Mr. Janus serves—has access to resources like childcare that our union has fought to defend.

Our union allows us speak up together on matters far beyond money. When Governor Rauner tried to cut childcare benefits for low-income single parents, we teamed up with outraged community members and made him back off. And when the budget impasse was forcing domestic violence shelters to close their doors, we kept pushing for years until a veto-proof budget was passed.

4. Our union blocked the employer from doubling the cost of Mr. Janus’s health benefits.

In negotiations the state has pushed to double our health insurance costs and drastically reduce coverage. The employer declared impasse and walked away from the bargaining table. AFSCME took the matter to the Labor Relations Board and the courts—securing a temporary restraining order that prevents the governor from imposing his extreme demands.

5. We make sure Mr. Janus’s office is warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

As a union we deal with health safety issues large and small. In the department that rescues children from household abuse and neglect, we’re continually pushing for sufficient staffing. The stakes are high: one member was killed on the job after she went out on an urgent call alone.

Other matters are less dramatic. In state office buildings we solve problems like flooding, mold, leaky windows, and toxic pigeon feces. One building had someone creeping up on employees in the parking lot, so we worked with management to get better lighting and security patrols.

In the building where Mr. Janus and I work, the heating and cooling system is extremely old. Twice a year they bring in a computer from 1982 to switch from heat to air conditioning for the summer, and vice versa for the winter. So when the weather fluctuates, we work to get portable heating or cooling units deployed where they’re needed.

Many of these are ongoing issues, where our union acts as a watchdog. We have a health and safety chair on the union executive board. Any time a problem comes up, he starts by approaching management to resolve it. If that doesn’t work, he can file an OSHA complaint plus a high-level grievance.

6. Thanks to our union, Mr. Janus will retire with a pension.

Our union has fought to save the defined-pension that Mr. Janus will receive upon retirement. A coalition of unions including AFSCME took the issue to court—and won. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that employees’ pension benefits cannot be cut.

7. Mr. Janus can get sick and still have a job when he comes back.

Before this job I worked without a union, in the retail industry, where I experienced what it means to be an at-will employee. Three absences would cost an employee their job—even if they called in sick and provided a doctor’s note.

8. Our union ensured that Mr. Janus could be fairly hired, regardless of his politics.

In public service our ultimate bosses are elected officials. There was a time in Illinois when to be hired or promoted, you were expected to make a contribution to the political party in power. But a 1990 Supreme Court case called Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois put an end to that. Today our union enforces a triple-blind system for fair treatment in hiring and promotions, making sure seniority is followed. It’s one more way that even Mr. Janus benefits from having a union on the job.