County Executive responds to Supreme Court ruling on unions
SUFFOLK COUNTY—Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone signed an executive order on Monday, July 9 to protect union members from what his administration calls “harassment and intimidation.” The move marks the first municipal action taken on Long Island in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision Janus v. Afscme.
According to Bellone’s administration, the executive order prohibits county entities from disclosing personal information for county employees amid numerous reports of individuals and organizations harassing union members or prospective union members.
“Day in and day out, Washington continues to put policies in place that hurt the hardworking middle-class families, not only in Suffolk County, but across the nation,” said Bellone. “In Suffolk County, we are taking decisive action. This executive order sends a clear message: we will do whatever it takes to protect our workers and fight back against the attacks to weaken our unions.”
Last month, similar action was taken on the state level by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The executive order, signed by Bellone, will protect approximately 8,500 public sector employees in Suffolk County, according to his administration.
The unions protected include the Suffolk Association of Municipal Employees, Suffolk County Correction Officers Association, Suffolk County Deputy Sheriffs PBA, Suffolk County Superior Officers Association, Suffolk County Probations Officers PBA, Suffolk County Detectives Association, Suffolk County Detectives Investigators PBA, and Suffolk County PBA.
The Supreme Court ruling came as a result of Mark Janus, an Illinois state government non-union employee, joining a lawsuit filed in 2015 by Illinois governor Bruce Rauner against American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.
Janus, a 65-year-old child support specialist, objected to the roughly $45 taken from his paycheck every month—money that went to the Afscme, despite the fact he isn’t a member. The landmark Supreme Court case that bears his name, Janus v. Afscme, ultimately overturned a 1977 decision that allowed such fees.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said that forcing workers to finance union activity violates the First Amendment.
“We recognize that the loss of payments from nonmembers may cause unions to experience unpleasant transition costs in the short term, and may require unions to make adjustments in order to attract and retain members,” Alito added. “But we must weigh these disadvantages against the considerable windfall that unions have received. It is hard to estimate how many millions of dollars have been taken from nonmembers and transferred to public-sector unions in violation of the First Amendment. Those unconstitutional exactions cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.”
Maria Navarro, CSEA Local 870 president, represents approximately 7,000 members in Suffolk County. Jobs include bus drivers, clerical workers, teacher aides, computer techs, custodial and food service workers, teacher assistants and security guards. “Pretty much most titles in schools except teachers,” Navarro said.
As a whole, Navarro says that workers have heard about the Supreme Court decision. She doesn’t feel workers are particularly nervous about the ruling, as CSEA has been preparing for a move like this for two years or more.
When asked if some workers were actually enthused about the ruling, Navarro said, “Not to my knowledge,” adding that her workers have been well informed about what is at stake if they opt out. “Most have pledged to ‘Never Quit,’” she added.
Union membership has been on the decline for years. When asked why, Navarro gave her opinion that some people are just misinformed and unfortunately have to “learn the hard way.”
Sam Gonzalez, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1430, called the Supreme Court ruling “nerve-wracking.” While the move doesn’t directly affect the workers in the private sector that he represents, Gonzalez worries about what might happen “moving forward.”
Gonzalez says the Supreme Court decision was “mostly about politics” and made with “little regard for the people who will be affected by it.”
When asked if some workers were actually enthused about the move, Gonzalez admitted that some were. However, they’re not in the majority, he says. “In order for us to represent everyone, everyone has to pay,” Gonzalez said, adding his belief that this decision, in the long term, will “affect everything across the board.”
Last week, it was reported that New York State would stop collecting union fees from about 31,000 state employees as a result of last month’s Supreme Court ruling. The move created a bump in take-home pay for administrative employees on Wednesday, July 11. Other employees will see a similar increase on Thursday, July 19.
NYS’s current payroll includes roughly 225,000 employees. The number of those who opted out does not include teachers or local government workers.
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