AFSCME 5 and Education Minnesota prevailed in federal court last week after a judge ruled that they do not have to retroactively return so-called “fair share” dues under the Janus decision.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson dismissed the three cases. Similar cases were filed all over the country after the Supreme Court handed down its devastating Janus v. AFSCME decision, which that found that public sector unions were limited in their ability to collect fair share dues.
No plaintiffs have prevailed in trying to claw back dues “retroactively.”
AFSCME Council 5 was facing two lawsuits. In Brown v. AFSCME Council 5, anti-worker forces contended that AFSCME Council 5 ought to repay all fair share fees that were collected prior the Janus Supreme Court decision. AFSCME Council 5 filed and argued a motion to dismiss the case for the plaintiff’s failure to make a legal claim on this case. The judge upheld AFSCME Council 5’s legal arguments, agreed to the motion and ordered the case be dismissed.
Piekarski v. AFSCME Council 5 sought to rule that contract language contained on membership cards was unlawful. AFSCME Council 5 filed and argued a motion for summary judgement and the judge granted the motion against the plaintiffs, holding that unions are not liable to repay fair share fees collected prior to the Janus decision.
Before Janus v. AFSCME, fair share fees were collected to ensure that if members of our bargaining units refused to fully pay for services provided in contract negotiations, grievance representation, and more, that they would pay a smaller fee to pay for services provided by the union.
“Labor unions and the rights of the working class are constantly under assault by those who wish to decimate our right to collectively bargain to improve our wages, hours, working conditions and terms of employment,” said Council 5 Executive Director Julie Bleyhl said. “While these two court rulings are a significant victory for working people, we are prepared for more to come. With our union united, working collaboratively together, and steadfast in our pursuit of racial, social and economic justice for all, we will continue to secure victories in our workplaces, the halls of power, and court rooms.”

Plaintiffs in the Education Minnesota case had originally petitioned to make it a class-action suit, but were rebuffed by Nelson last year. The case, Hoekman v. Education Minnesota, made similar claims to the AFSCME cases, leaning heavily on the implication that actions taken by Education Minnesota were made in bad faith.

Nelson’s ruling said there is no evidence indicated that the dues were collected with malice or in bad faith.

Plaintiffs in the Education Minnesota case say they plan to appeal.

BESSEMER, Ala. (PAI)—Overcoming one final company-crafted hurdle, almost 6,000 workers—most of them Black in a 70% Black city—at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., started mail voting on Feb. 8 on whether to unionize.
Final results of the balloting, on whether the workers will join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, a sector of the United Food and Commercial Workers, will be announced March 29.
The last-ditch hurdle, which other anti-union bosses have tried, was to force the 5,805 workers to vote in the traditional manner—in the warehouse during time off from their shifts—despite the lack of physical distancing and other anti-coronavirus measures. The National Labor Relations Board, even with a GOP-named majority, unanimously OKd the mail ballot.
“Once again Amazon workers have won another fight in their effort to win a union voice,” RWDSU President Stuart Applebaum said after the board’s Feb. 5 ruling for mail balloting, not in-person voting.
“Amazon’s blatant disregard for the health and safety of its own workforce was demonstrated yet again by its insistence for an in-person election in the middle of the pandemic. Today’s decision proves that it’s long past time that Amazon start respecting its own employees, and allow them to cast their votes without intimidation and interference.”
If RWDSU wins, it would mark a double breakthrough for organized labor in two notoriously hostile environments: Amazon and Alabama. Only 8% of the state’s workers were union members last year, a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey reported. And while union density rose around the U.S. in 2020, it declined in right-to-work Alabama.
Meanwhile, Amazon hired 400,000 new workers last year to deal with huge increases in shipping volume due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kevin Vasquez reported in Harvard Law School’s On Labor blog.
Amazon’s also notoriously anti-union, even though it could easily afford to pay its workers higher, living wages. Its owner, Jeff Bezos, is one of the three richest people in the U.S. None of Amazon’s facilities in the U.S. are unionized.
Appelbaum told Reuters earlier that top union officials had discussed the organizing drive with top aides to new Democratic President Joe Biden, a strong union backer, just after the Jan. 20 inauguration. He did not disclose who talked, or the Biden aides’ response.
Appelbaum stressed the importance of the Bessemer campaign to the entire labor
movement and its effort to break through in the notoriously union-hating South. There, bosses (continued) and politicians in the racially antagonistic and stratified society often play off whites versus Blacks to thwart union organizing drives by depriving workers of local community support.
Amazon “has a long and well-documented history of workplace abuses, poor working conditions and illegal labor practices,” Vasquez added. “A successful union campaign could incite a flurry of organizing activity and spread rapidly to its other warehouses.”

“In Amazon’s eyes, there is apparently no contradiction between the contentions that Black Lives Matter”—a campaign it verbally supported—”on the one hand and that the majority-Black workforce in Bessemer should not be afforded the protections and benefits of a union, which will, among many other things, help to protect them from the unchecked spread of a deadly virus.”

Amazon grudgingly admitted in September that the coronavirus had infected more than 19,000 of its workers. It refused to say how many have died. It hasn’t released figures since then. Lack of protection against the virus is a key issue for the Bessemer workers.

Past Amazon retaliation against warehouse workers around the country who spoke up—and in the case of four Staten Island workers, sued—about lack of coronavirus protection, reinforced the lack of protection Amazon workers have.

In the Staten Island warehouse case, a federal judge in Brooklyn dismissed their suit last year. He said the workers should have taken their complaint about lack of safety measures to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, instead. But OSHA, under GOP Trump regime rule, was notorious for not enforcing job safety laws in coronavirus cases, until, literally, after Biden won last November’s election.

Before that, Staten Island worker Chris Smalls had led a lunchtime walkout of dozens of workers over lack of personal protective equipment for workers at that warehouse. Amazon later fired him on trumped-up charges. It also fired Bashir Mohamed in Minneapolis and Courtney Bowden in Philadelphia, among others. 

BuzzFeed reported in early February that its Freedom of Information Act request revealed the NLRB’s Philadelphia regional office decided in November that Bowden had a legitimate complaint about illegal retaliation in violation of labor law. It scheduled a hearing for her case to start on March 9.

By Amie Stager and Michael Moore
As picketing at the refinery in this small, suburban community entered a third week, members of Teamsters Local 120 and Gov. Tim Walz ratcheted up the pressure on Marathon earlier this month with a rally highlighting workers’ safety concerns.
Each day the lockout continues, Local 120 steward Tylor Sardeson warned, Marathon is putting its workers and surrounding communities at risk.
“We’re on this side of the fence,” said Sardeson, a crude operator at the facility. “It’s the wrong side of the fence to make sure this place stays safe.”
Nearly 200 Teamsters are standing together to resist the company’s demand for dramatically different staffing inside the refinery, including the ability to replace union members with workers from lowest-bidder subcontractors.
“They’re going to add more jobs to my plate, and I don’t even feel comfortable with the ones I have right now,” Local 120 steward Dean Benson said. “Safely, it’s just not possible.”
“It’s about the safety of this community,” Walz said. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that.”
Walz listened as workers and family members laid out the stakes of contract negotiations with Marathon. Rhiannon Sklavenitis fought back tears as she recalled a serious burn injury her husband suffered at the refinery, which left her more afraid for his safety than when he was deployed into combat with the Navy.
The governor then took the stage and called on Marathon “to get back to the table” and “make sure safety is at the center” of talks. He praised union members for taking a stand.
Elected officials have tread a beaten track to St. Paul Park since the work stoppage began, offering their support to Teamsters on the picket line. Some lawmakers have taken managers at the refinery to task for locking out experienced workers.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, in a letter to local Marathon executive Amy Macak, noted ownership of the refinery has changed multiple times in recent years, but its “dependable, highly-skilled, local union-represented workforce” has been a constant presence.
“The breakdown of contract negotiations and use of outside contractors by Marathon raises serious questions about safety,” McCollum wrote, adding that the 2018 explosion at Husky Energy’s refinery in Superior, Wis., serves as a “grave reminder of the need to maintain the highest standards for safety.”
Members of other local unions are showing their solidarity with locked-out Teamsters as well, joining them on the picket line, providing food and other supplies, and contributing to workers’ defense fund.
“There are a whole bunch of unions in this crowd,” Kera Peterson, president of the 66,000-member St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, told locked-out workers during the rally. “This fight is Minnesota’s fight, and we are with you in this for the long haul, as long as it takes.”
Teamsters who work at the St. Paul Park refinery – electricians, operators, maintenance and other workers – originally went on strike Jan. 21, three weeks after their union contract expired.
After 24 hours on the picket line, striking workers offered to return to their jobs, but they were turned away at the gate – a move Local 120 President Tom Erickson called the most reckless he’s seen in 30 years negotiating contracts.
The two sides have held at least one bargaining session since the lockout began. But like the 24 sessions leading up to the lockout, it was negotiations in name only, union members said.
Jim Swanson, an electrician at the refinery, told U.S. Sen. Tina Smith on the picket line Saturday that union members make sure to bring their phones into bargaining, so they have something to read after the company’s negotiators walk out of the room.
“They just haven’t negotiated at all,” Swanson said. “It seemed like they had an agenda right from the beginning. I think they planned to not even negotiate and have us go on strike.
“We never brought up money once,” he added. “I don’t think anybody here is concerned about money. It’s issues in the refinery – safety stuff and trying to eliminate positions.”
As the lockout drags on, Local 120 members have begun following trucks from the refinery to local freight yards and Speedway gas stations, looking to raise awareness of the lockout.
While they cannot legally call for a boycott of Speedway, workers can advise potential customers that the fuel being sold crossed a picket line, and that the company has locked out workers whose training and experience keeps St. Paul Park and its surrounding communities safe.
“We don’t want the Husky incident to happen here,” Sardeson said. “I live in Cottage Grove. My children go to school here in Cottage Grove. It’s very important to me that the facility stays running and stays safe.”
Matt Foss, who has worked at the refinery for 22 years as a member of the emergency response team, a fire mechanic and rescue lieutenant, addressed a letter to the board calling on them to intervene. In the letter, Foss writes:
“Operating the refinery with a skeleton crew of mostly local and out-of-state managers (as is happening now), is not a risk worth taking. They do not have the training nor experience to safely navigate the types of operational incidents that can occur in this refinery, particularly in the bitter cold temperatures of a Minnesota winter. Moreover, our local area fire departments are not equipped to protect the community from a significant industrial accident without Marathon’s full emergency response team on the job. The consequences could be catastrophic.
“Locking us out of our jobs after we risked our health and the wellbeing of our families to maintain uninterrupted service throughout this pandemic is particularly hurtful especially given the $411 million in CARES Act tax benefits Marathon received. Adding insult to injury, management appears now to be flouting both the company’s own COVID-19 protocols for employees exposed to COVID-19 (with one manager brought back to work during the lockout only two days into his quarantine), as well as our State’s quarantine guidelines for individuals who have traveled to Minnesota from out-of-state, like those working in the facility from virus hot-spots such as California and Texas.”

Minnesota Nurses Association President Mary C. Turner has been selected to serve on the national Biden-Harris COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. Turner is the only Registered Nurse to serve on this advisory board to advise the White House on how to ensure all Americans have access to COVID-19 resources. She was personally selected by President Joe Biden.
“I’m both honored and humbled to serve the country,” Turner said. “The voices of the nation’s registered nurses needs to be part of the conversation on how we end the effects of this vicious virus.”
Turner said she was contacted by Dr. B. Cameron Webb, Biden’s Senior Policy Advisor for COVID-19 Equity. Turner was part of a press conference round table the president held in November, and, since then, she has also had discussions with Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who will chair the task force.
Nunez-Smith said she was moved by Turner’s testimony that day as was President-elect Biden, at the time.
“I’ve seen how this pandemic has disproportionally hurt people in our community,” Turner said. “At my hospital, we have a diverse patient population, and, as nurses, we can see what the data is telling us. More patients in our communities of color. More effects of the virus. We have to end this by fairly distributing our resources to everyone.”
Turner continues to work as an Intensive Care Unit nurse in the COVID-19 unit at North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. She was re-elected president of MNA in November.
“We are thrilled that MNA/NNU President Mary C. Turner will be an incredible voice of patient advocacy on this task force. It is a relief and an honor to know that the Biden administration will be listening closely to working, direct-care nurses in their Covid-19 response,” said NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN

—MNA