Write me: rjn@richardjnewman.com
The Janus Case: What Freedom’s All About. Or At Least That’s What They Want You To Think…
At the end of every aca­d­e­m­ic year, my union hosts a din­ner at which a group of fac­ul­ty, staff, and admin­is­tra­tion put on a musi­cal show, the main pur­pose of which is to poke fun at our­selves. It’s a won­der­ful reminder that we shouldn’t take our­selves so seri­ous­ly that we for­get who we are, why we do the work we do, or why it mat­ters that we are a union—one that just this year cel­e­brat­ed its 50th anniver­sary. I’ve been at the col­lege for near­ly three decades and I’ve been in every show except one, which I missed because of my wife’s grad­u­a­tion. The script is always original—we base it on the issues we’ve con­front­ed dur­ing the year, the nation­al issues that have been imping­ing on us, and the eter­nal issues that all teach­ers and stu­dents face—but the songs we sing are spoofs on well-known Broad­way melodies, on stan­dards from the Amer­i­can song­book, or pop­u­lar music.

 

For the past two years, I have played Don­ald Trump, and the nar­ra­tive of our show has been built around the con­ceit that this best pres­i­dent, with the best ideas, who can make the best deals, and who knows more about every­thing than any­body else was the best choice to solve the (very real) prob­lems that have been plagu­ing our col­lege for the past six or sev­en years. In last year’s show, I sang “I Am The Very Mod­el of a Mod­el Col­lege President”—based, of course, on Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I Am the Very Mod­el of a Mod­ern Major Gen­er­al”—and this year I sang our ver­sion of “Just in Time,” by Jule Styne, with lyrics by Bet­ty Com­den and Adolph Green, about how I/Trump arrived just in time to deal with the cam­pus’ most press­ing prob­lems. Here’s a mon­tage from this year’s show, in which you can see me briefly in my Trump wig:

As you might imagine—we are an aca­d­e­m­ic union in an agency-fee state—the then-still-not-decid­ed Janus deci­sion fig­ured promi­nent­ly in our thoughts this year. In my capac­i­ty as union sec­re­tary, I’d writ­ten five posts about the case for our blog, and so I was charged with fig­ur­ing out how to work the case into the show. The third post in that series, Prepar­ing for Janus: What We’re Up Against, zoomed out to look at the case from a nation­al per­spec­tive, and what I learned from research­ing that post was what I tried to chan­nel as I wrote the mono­logue that would be spo­ken by our ver­sion of Mark Janus. Now that I’ve read the deci­sion itself, what I wrote seems to me even more apt than it was when I wrote it.

It’s satire, of course, which means it’s unabashed­ly par­ti­san, so it’s not a ful­ly fleshed-out argu­ment; and, despite what my Mark Janus says, Don­ald Trump actu­al­ly has very lit­tle to do with how the Janus case end­ed up before the Supreme Court, though Trump has been very use­ful to the right wing bil­lion­aires and ide­o­logues who’ve been work­ing for at least 15 years to make it hap­pen. Still, I thought the mono­logue worth shar­ing:

Hel­lo, my name is Mark Janus. Your new pres­i­dent, Don­ald Trump, has asked me to speak to you about why it’s so impor­tant to make Right-to Work the law of the land. Pres­i­dent Trump—successful, self-made man that he is—truly has his fin­ger on our nation’s pulse, and he under­stands why it’s impor­tant for work­ing men and women to be able to find jobs, regard­less of whether they get paid fair­ly, whether their work­ing con­di­tions are safe, whether they can get fired for no oth­er rea­son than slap­ping away their boss’ hand when he—or she; have to be care­ful not to be sexist—started mas­sag­ing the wrong inner thigh under the table at the com­pa­ny din­ner no oth­er employ­ees were invit­ed to…truly, you have no idea how lucky you are to have as your col­lege pres­i­dent a man who real­ly gets it, who will make sure that stuff like fair pay and fair treat­ment don’t get in the way of your right to work.

So why did he ask me to come here to speak with you? After all, I’m just an aver­age guy from Illi­nois. Well, I’m also the plain­tiff in that Supreme Court case you’ve been hear­ing so much about. The one where the Court’s going to decide once and for all whether or not aver­age peo­ple like us can be forced to pay a union for ser­vices that union pro­vides us. I’ll give you an exam­ple. I work for the Depart­ment of Health Care and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices in Illi­nois, and I’m rep­re­sent­ed by AFSCME, the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of State, Coun­ty and Munic­i­pal Employ­ees. They nego­ti­at­ed a fair con­tract. I get paid pret­ty well for what I do; I have a good ben­e­fits pack­age; a path for pro­mo­tion if I want to take it; a retire­ment plan. The con­tract also helps guar­an­tee that my work­load stays rea­son­able, that I have recourse if I’m treat­ed unfair­ly; and I stand ful­ly behind my right to all of that, and to the union’s role in mak­ing sure that con­tract isn’t violated…and you know what? So does my legal team, and those won­der­ful Koch broth­ers, and all those oth­er con­ser­v­a­tive orga­ni­za­tions, who are pay­ing for my legal team. In fact, I don’t know a sin­gle per­son on my side who doesn’t say, “Sure, if there are enough peo­ple who want to form a union, they should do so; and if they want to go ahead and nego­ti­ate a fair con­tract for every­one in the bar­gain­ing unit, then, hell yes, they should go ahead and do just that. If it makes them hap­py, it makes us hap­py.” We just believe that if they’re the ones who want to be a union, they’re the only ones who should have to pay for being a union. That’s what freedom’s all about, isn’t it? Not hav­ing to pay for some­thing when you can get it for free.

Here’s anoth­er exam­ple. When I was hired, even though I said I didn’t want to join the union, the union still deduct­ed from my salary what it calls a “fair share fee.” Yeah, I know, that mon­ey is sup­posed to com­pen­sate them for the work they have to do to nego­ti­ate for me, to rep­re­sent me…but do you know what they then had the nerve to ask me to do? Lob­by for a soda tax! Can you believe it? First, what the hell does that have to do with edu­ca­tion? More than that, though, they put me in the posi­tion of hav­ing to say no, of hav­ing not to show up for that ral­ly or whatever—because, frankly, I think a soda tax is stu­pid; if peo­ple want to get fat on soft drinks, that’s their business—and putting me in that posi­tion was just so unfair! What good are all those ben­e­fits, who cares about “the work they do on my behalf” if they’re going to treat me like that? 

So that’s why I’m here. Because your Pres­i­dent Trump knows my name has become syn­ony­mous with the kind of free­dom of choice you need to pol­ish the jew­el this col­lege is, the kind of free­dom on which our great coun­try was founded—though if you study ancient Roman mythol­o­gy, you also know I was named after Janus, the god of begin­nings and end­ings, and so I am ask­ing you to help me make this the begin­ning of the end of the unions’ left-wing stran­gle­hold on our nation’s pol­i­tics… (Here, Janus was inter­rupt­ed by oth­er char­ac­ters who sang a pro-union song.)

At bot­tom, that’s what the Janus case was real­ly about. Noth­ing more and noth­ing less.

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