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'This is a fight for unions,' say labor leaders about Janus decision

National Public Radio

Area unions are pushing back against the U.S. Supreme Court's Janus v. AFSCME decision, which allows public employees to gain pay and benefits under union contracts without paying union dues. Union leaders made clear during a news conference Monday they expect a future push to do the same to private sector unions.

"This is aimed at de-fanging our organizations on the political and legislative front, but besides that, it's aimed at de-fanging us on the economic front," said Area Labor Federation President Richard Lipsitz. "It's very difficult to negotiate successfully and ratify labor agreements if you have people inside the organization who are not participating in the organization, but in fact are allowed to stand outside and get the benefits of it. We're against this."

Erie County legislators are trying to block access to personal data of country workers who might be contacted by outside groups, encouraging them to leave their unions. Legislator Patrick Burke said weakening unions hurts everyone.

"What we saw, right away, after the Janus decision was a coordinated effort by institutions and financiers like the Koch brothers to engage with public employees and try to convince them to abandon their union - and we know that's wrong," said the South Buffalo Democrat. "We know that hurts the working people of our community."

At issue is blockage of access to personal data like personal home phone or cell numbers, home addresses and email addresses. Legislators voted 8-3 on Thursday to block outside access to that data. Majority Leader April Baskin was a co-sponsor of the measure.

"Now that workers have the opportunity to opt out of even agency fee and completely disassociate themselves with their union, this will limit access and funds and worker advocacy, which will ultimately lead to weakening contracts and less power for workers to fight for their rights," Baskin said.

Not all employee data is directly accessible using laws like freedom of information. Some data is specifically blocked, like that of police officers, by state law. County lawyers are studying the situation.

Janus is expected to be a hot topic at the AFSCME International Convention July 14-20 in Boston.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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