EB labor leaders say Supreme Court decision 'opens door to eliminate unions'

The Supreme Court’s ruling last month allowing public employees to fully opt out of paying union dues gives momentum to efforts to provide the same option to private sector employees, the heads of the two biggest unions at Electric Boat said this week.

“It opens up the door for the private sector to be next,” said Bill Louis, president of Marine Draftsmen's Association - United Auto Workers, Local 571. The union, which has more than 2,400 members, represents designers, draftsmen, technical aides and engineering support administrative personnel at the shipyard.

The U.S. Supreme Court sided 5-4 with Mark Janus, a child-support specialist in Illinois, who argued that being forced to finance union activity violated his right to free speech because he was being forced to support a union that advocates for issues he’s against.

The result will be loss of membership and revenue “thereby reducing the resources that unions would have to espouse causes they wish to advance on behalf of working people,” said Emanuel Psarakis, a professor at Quinnipiac University Law School who specializes in employment law.

Previously, public union employees were required to at least pay “fair share” or “agency” fees.

The Supreme Court’s decision “opens the door to eliminate unions,” said Ken DelaCruz, president of the Metals Trade Council, which bargains for most shipyard workers at EB with about 2,900 members. The due structure varies because eight different international unions are affiliated with the MTC, Delacruz said.

“Labor unions are one of the few organizations that are out there fighting big business to say, ‘Hey, we want a fair wage. We want a good retirement. We want benefits. We want good working hours. We want good working conditions,’” DelaCruz said.

Outside of unionized workplaces, wages have been stagnant, he added. “The reason for that (discrepancy) is there’s a bloc of people standing together saying we want this and we deserve this.”

The ruling does not apply to private employers, which are governed by the National Labor Relations Act, but it “weakens unions altogether,” Louis, the MDA president, said.

“If we get a Republican governor, we’ll become right-to-work overnight,” he added.

Twenty-eight states have passed so-called right-to-work laws removing the requirement that workers pay union fees. Similar legislation has been proposed in Connecticut.

In Connecticut, the state Republican Party's pick to be the next governor, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, praised the Supreme Court’s decision, reportedly saying it tilted the balance of power away from labor at the capitol.

Louis, the MDA president, estimated that 85 percent of MDA’s new members have never been part of a union before. The union puts on new hire classes, paying its members to come to its office for a half day to get an overview of what the union does, how it works and their benefits package. Various issues, such as right-to-work laws, also are discussed. Members pay a $50 initiation fee, and 2½ hours a month — in other words, their hourly rate times 2.5 — are deducted from their paycheck for union dues.

j.bergman@theday.com

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