ATLANTIC CITY — “Who even cares about Janus?”
That was one of the questions posed on towering billboards to visitors entering Atlantic City for the New Jersey Education Association convention last week.
Over the summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Illinois worker Mark Janus, who sued the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees over mandatory union dues. The court said government workers can’t be forced to contribute to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining.
The Center for Union Facts, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that claims to fight “for transparency and accountability in America’s labor movement,” launched the billboard campaign targeting the NJEA convention last week, as well as the ongoing New Jersey State League of Municipalities convention this week.
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According to a blog post on the nonprofit’s website, “Teachers headed into town for the conventions will pass three billboards on the Atlantic City Expressway urging them to learn more about their rights under the Supreme Court’s recent Janus decision.”
NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said the billboards did not have an effect on convention attendees.
“I spoke to hundreds of members in that time, and not one of them mentioned the billboards. Our members understand the value of membership, and they saw that in action at the convention, where they had access to world-class professional development provided by their union,” Baker wrote in an email this week. “They can see through the motives of the out-of-state, anti-union groups that are spending big money to try to trick educators into giving up their power. Our members are not falling for that con.”
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The Center for Union Facts claims they are not anti-union but instead dedicated to “showing Americans the truth about today’s union leadership.” IRS records show the group is managed by publicist and lobbyist Richard Berman.
Charlyce Bozzello, communications manager at the center, said visitors to the AboutJanus.com website advertised on the billboard were up on the days of the NJEA convention.
“We haven’t heard specifically from union members, but I can tell you that as of last week our website had almost 2,000 visitors and the majority were coming in the day of the conference,” she said. “Our goal wasn’t to make sure people weren’t opting out, our goal was to start a conversation about it.”
Bozzello said the NJEA convention was the first major union conference post-Janus decision.
“So we knew that was a great opportunity,” she said.
The NJEA has called the 5-4 Janus decision “blatantly anti-worker, anti-middle class.” The NJEA represents more than 200,000 education workers including 125,000 teachers and nearly 50,000 other education professionals.
Unions say the outcome of the Janus decision could affect more than 5 million government workers in about two dozen states, including New Jersey and the District of Columbia.