If a picture is worth a thousand words, the one showing Mitch McConnell about to shake hands with Neil Gorsuch should hang in every union hall.

“If it doesn’t show that elections have consequences, I don’t know else what would,” said Bill Londrigan, the Kentucky State AFL-CIO president. “With all he did to put Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, McConnell engineered the ultimate weapon against unions.”

Gorsuch provided the key vote in the high court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which was announced today.

Democratic presidents nominated the four dissenting justices. Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, made five Republican presidential picks.

With Trump cheering them on, the GOP fab five stuck it to unions. 

“Until it is overturned, this decision will be a political stain on what is intended to be the most honorable, independent body in the world,” said a statement from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “But more importantly, it will further empower the corporate elites in their efforts to thwart the aspirations of millions of working people standing together for a better life.”

“…It is shameful that the billionaire CEOs and corporate special interests behind this case have succeeded in manipulating the highest court in the land to do their bidding. This case was nothing more than a blatant political attack to further rig our economy and democracy against everyday Americans in favor of the wealthy and powerful,” said a joint statement the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and Service Employees International Union.

Scalia II

Trump nominated Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia, a hard-right, anti-union ideologue. The president and the Senate majority leader expected their guy to be Scalia II. Gorsuch didn’t disappoint.

McConnell set the table for Gorsuch by cynically blocking Merrick Garland, President Obama’s high court nominee. After Trump tapped Gorsuch, McConnell greased the skids. Gorsuch got the black robe. Easy-peasy.

Anyway, the Janus decision, in effect, forces public employee unions into a “right to work” straightjacket.

Janus overturned Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977). In that case, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of public employee unions to collect fees from non-union employees to help pay for union representation for everybody. Unions call them “fair share fees.”

Under federal law, unions must represent all hourly employees at a unionized workplace, whether they belong to the union or not.

The high court’s quintet of Republican appointees ruled that a public employee union like the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees can no longer require fair-share fees. Now, employees who won’t join the union can enjoy–for free–union won wages and benefits as well as equal representation with union employees.

In any event, the photo of McConnell and Gorsuch popped up on the senator’s twitter account Tuesday after the high court announced that it had sustained President Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban, also by a 5-4 margin.

Team Mitch “was ready to remind everyone…of the unprecedented power grab that helped secure such a decision,” wrote Tierney Sneed in Talking Points Memo.

Scalia died in 2016, the last full year of Obama’s presidency. To replace Scalia, he named Garland, a D.C. appeals court judge; McConnell “refused to grant the Obama nominee even a committee hearing,” Sneed recalled.

Added Sneed: “The seat stayed open well over a year, while the prospect of a Republican-appointed Supreme Court justice to fill the pivotal ninth seat appeared to help drive conservatives otherwise skeptical of Trump to the ballot box in 2016, according to exit polls.”

Desperate to get Gorsuch on the bench, McConnell changed longstanding Senate rules. He and Senate Republicans obligingly “blew up the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees to see him confirmed,” Sneed wrote.

McConnell crowed that torpedoing Garland was “the most consequential decision I’ve made in my entire public career,” Sneed reminded TPM readers.

Mark Janus, the plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME, is an Illinois state government employee but not an AFSCME member. He sued the union because he didn’t want to pay the fair-share fee. Rabidly anti-labor groups like the National Right to Work Committee and the State Policy Network got behind Janus. So did Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, another pro-RTW Republican who despises unions, especially those in the public sector.

Another truth-twisting Trump tweet  

Trump gloated over the Janus decision. “Supreme Court rules in favor of non-union workers who are now, as an example, able to support a candidate of his or her choice without having those who control the Union deciding for them,” he tweeted. “Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!”

“Fair share fees” don’t go for political activities, said Louisville labor attorney Dave Suetholz. By law, contributions to candidates are strictly voluntary.

“The tweet is yet another example of our president commenting on a subject he knows nothing about,” said Suetholz, also a Democratic candidate for the state Senate.

Trump did his bit to boost Janus

The Trump administration filed an amicus brief in Janus’s support. “[The brief]…is not just a slap in the face to the working people Donald Trump pledged to lift up, it is a promise broken to anyone who hoped his presidency would be about raising wages, creating good jobs, and giving the forgotten man and woman a voice in their country,” said a joint statement from AFSCME, AFT, NEA and SEIU.

“The ‘right-to-work’ law his administration has asked the highest court in the land to implement will drive wages down and fundamentally strip working people of the freedom to build power in numbers and negotiate a fair return on their work.”

Sadly, more than a few working stiffs–some of them union members–slapped themselves is the face by voting for Trump over Hillary Clinton, the AFL-CIO-endorsed Democrat.

Never mind that Trump flat said on the campaign trail that he liked “right to work” states better than non-RTW states. Forget that he said he preferred non-union workers to union workers on his building projects.

Trump ran on an old-fashioned Wall Street anti-union platform. It had the customary pro-RTW plank.

Clinton publicly denounced RTW; her platform included an anti-RTW plank. While she was a New York senator from 2001 to 2009, Clinton voted the union position on issues 94 percent of the time, according to the AFL-CIO’s Legislative Scorecard.

At any rate, while this Supreme Court term is winding up, the Republicans aren’t finished with their union-busting.

Twenty-two states still don’t have RTW laws. Federal law, of course, supersedes state law. HR 785, the “National Right to Work Act” is idling in the House.

Sponsored by right-wing union-hating bigot Steve King, R-Iowa, the measure has 122 co-sponsors, all Republicans. Three are Kentuckians: Andy Barr, R-Lexington, 6th District; James Comer, R-Tompkinsville, 1st District; and Thomas Massie, R-Garrison, 4th District.

Still think voting doesn’t matter?

If Trump gets the “Red Wave” he’s been predicting, you can bet we’ll get national RTW. So look again at the photo of the gloating McConnell and his water-carrier-to-be on the high court. Look at it hard.

Then get out and get behind your union-endorsed candidates. Volunteer to knock on doors, staff phone banks, pass out leaflets and spread the word on social media.

Encourage your union brothers and sisters to register and vote for our endorsed candidates. Then vote yourself like your job and your union depend on it because they do.

Still think voting doesn’t matter? Think again. Think hard. Think Matt Bevin, RTW and prevailing wage repeal. Workers’ comp and public pension-gutting. A Robin-Hood-in-Reverse tax bill.

Add Janus and the prospect of nationwide RTW.


Berry Craig
Berry Craig of Mayfield is a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community College in Paducah and an author of five books on the Civil War in Kentucky. The last one, published by the University Press of Kentucky, is Kentucky’s Rebel Press: Pro-Confederate Media in the Civil War. His critically-acclaimed Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase, also from the University Press, has been reprinted in paperback.