Members, families weigh union difference

Posted Mar. 27, 2019 by

While a high-profile 2018 U.S. Supreme Court case was expected to “deal a major blow” to public unions and shutter the stability of the labor movement, that has hardly been the case, unions report.

In reality, the Janus vs. AFSCME decision to side against public employee unions has done the contrary, say union leaders. Instead, the ruling to eliminate public union fair share fees has sparked a thoughtful dialogue among union members and nonmembers, alike, about the value of unions. The dangerous, anti-union opt-out campaigns that followed Janus have actually reinvigorated many workers—public and private—to look at union membership and workplace solidarity in a new and positive light. And more and more courts are siding with unions that attacks against the freedom to be union have gone too far.

For Craig and Amy Walkenspaw, a husband and wife team both employed by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, weighing union membership was very much a family affair, and not a decision they came upon lightly. Craig and Amy were fairshare fee payers prior to Janus, meaning they paid partial dues that covered their “fair share” of contract representation (i.e., grievances, contract negotiations, health care coverage, etc.). The family ultimately decided that joining the union​ would help them​ build power on the job.

“With the fairshare option being invalidated by the Supreme Court, not contributing to our future collective representation was no longer an option. And the uncertainty about future union-administered health and educational benefits was unsettling. Even with some differences in opinion, we’re stronger together,” said Craig about his and Amy’s joint decision to stick with the union and sign cards after 23 and 18 years, respectively, of public service.

Amy says their decision was about having a strong voice and building power on the job.

“Individuals who take advantage of the union’s protection and benefits without contributing would be taking advantage of the system. The union needs to be strong economically and intellectually to be proactive. Otherwise, [it] will become weak and will eventually buckle if it’s preyed upon by people who don’t contribute,” she said.

Both Craig and Amy agree that there are aspects that both union and management can improve on for the greater good. But being union is the best way to bring about joint, meaningful change in the Ohio EPA, for now, they say.

Union sisters

Sisters Keri Smith and Tracy Miller, both Ohio Public Safety employees, said the recent court decision inspired a family conversation for them as well about being in a union.

“I was talking with my sister Keri about the recent court decision and discovered that I had never signed a union card,” said Tracy. “We both thought being in the union was an automatic thing that happened when you got hired.” But this wasn’t exactly accurate.

Without even realizing, Tracy was paying fairshare dues, the default when no union membership card (nor completely filled-out card) was on file. So, once the Janus decision came down, her dues payment stopped, and so did her access to many member-only union resources, like free college, discounts, contract bargaining news, scholarships and more.

Sister Keri wanted to make sure Tracy wasn’t missing out. “I told her, you need to call someone at the union today,” said Keri, whose husband is a Millwrights unionist. “It’s like insurance. You don’t always need it, but it’s good to have.”

“Had I known in the beginning, I would have signed a card day one,” said Tracy. “Sure, as nice as it was not to pay anything, I think the union just provides too much security not to.” Know someone who is weighing union membership? Reach out to them today and talk about the benefits of being union. Find resources at Encourage them to check their union card status at or click the big red button: Join OCSEA on the homepage.