Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending June 29, 2018

Janus decision drops as members of Congress rally behind unions and working families.

The Congress is now out for their 4th of July recess.
The next Federal Legislative Report will be on Friday, July 13. 

  • Janus v. AFSCME Council 31
  • New Supreme Court Vacancy
  • Senate Passes Bipartisan Farm Bill
  • House Rejects Second GOP-Sponsored Immigration Bill
  • Trump Tax Cuts Enacted 6 Months Ago: Disappointment and Opposition Grows
  • Seventh Circuit Removes Hold on Byrne-JAG Awards
  • Senate Approves Labor HHS funding

Janus v. AFSCME Council 31

An overwhelming majority of the members of AFSCME’s House and Senate allies reacted to the Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 Supreme Court ruling this week with a zeal to support unions and fight back against the decision. Friendly legislators amplified our message that the case represents an attack on public-sector workers and their freedom to organize and negotiate for a fair deal in their workplace. Through scores of public statements, they affirmed that unions are the foundation of the American middle-class and are critical to rebuilding economic security for all working families. 

AFSCME President Lee Saunders also joined House and Senate leaders at a Capitol Hill press conference to unveil federal legislation to strengthen the rights of public workers. He stated: “The Supreme Court tried to strike a blow to one of the pillars of democracy, and they will not succeed. [Union members] …they work hard every single day to keep our communities safe; to keep our communities strong.” 

What You Need to Know: Shortly after the Janus decision was announced, leaders in the House and Senate formally introduced the Public-Sector Freedom to Negotiate Act (H.R. 6238, S. 3151). This legislation reaffirms collective bargaining to promote stable, cooperative relationships between public employees and their employers. The bill guarantees public employees the right to organize and bargain collectively in all states, including those that currently do not afford these basic rights.

New Supreme Court Vacancy 

On the heels of the Janus decision, Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy abruptly announced his intention to retire from active service on the court at the end of July, kicking off a new controversy over the appointment of a successor by President Trump. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) immediately said it would be the “height of hypocrisy” for the GOP to vote on a Supreme Court nominee before the midterm elections, citing the precedent set by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who prevented consideration of President Obama’s selection of Merrick Garland to replace Antonin Scalia.  McConnell meanwhile said he would proceed to swift consideration as soon as an appointment is made. From all accounts, President Trump is expected to name a nominee very soon, perhaps sometime in July.

What You Need to Know:  The Supreme Court plays an essential role in providing checks and balances to Congress and the President.  Kennedy has been a crucial swing vote on a number of big case, including the Janus case, where he sided with the majority against AFSCME. In the coming weeks we will need the help of AFSCME members to make sure the court is not further stacked against working families. We’ve seen the harm this Congress and this President are wreaking on working families with enormous tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit billionaires, unrelenting attacks to take away health care, efforts to strip worker protections, and more. AFSCME will be working to ensure that any replacement to Justice Kennedy is not rushed through Congress and is given full and careful review of their background, experience, qualifications and past record.

Senate Passes Bipartisan Farm Bill 

The Senate passed its bipartisan version of the farm bill (S. 3046) by a vote of 86 to 11. S. 3046 protects and strengthens SNAP by continuing its current pilot program to develop best practices for employment and training programs and establishes a three-year certification period for households with seniors or disabilities.

What You Need to Know: The Senate rejected efforts to add harmful provisions, like those included in the House-passed version (H.R. 2), to impose new harsh work requirements, drastically cut SNAP benefits, restrict access to SNAP benefits, and end the merit staffing requirement for SNAP eligibility determinations. The Senate and House must resolve the differences between the two versions. AFSCME strongly opposes the House version and urges Congress to reject its harsh approach. 

House Rejects Second GOP-Sponsored Immigration Bill 

The House voted down the conservative immigration plan negotiated by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), called the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018 (H.R. 6136) by a vote of 121 to 301. The GOP continues to grapple with polar-opposite ideologies on immigration within their caucus.  Meanwhile, the GOP leadership also continues to oppose any plan that does not have majority support within their caucus, including the bipartisan plan to address Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The Ryan bill would not have protected DACA, DREAMers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, or the thousands of children who have been cruelly separated from their parents and detained due to President Trump’s new zero-tolerance policy. 

What You Need to Know:  The Ryan alternative plan attempted to bridge the divide between anti-immigrant proponents and GOP moderates. Democrats were not invited to any negotiations. The bill failed to provide DREAMers with a path to citizenship and focused on implementing harsh enforcement policies. AFSCME continues to urge Congress to set aside differences and hold votes on a bipartisan plan that includes the DREAM Act.

Trump Tax Cuts Enacted 6 Months Ago: Disappointment and Opposition Grows 

June 22 was the six-month anniversary of President Trump signing into law the Trump-GOP tax package, which was a massive federal tax giveaway to large profitable corporations and the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.  Unfortunately, six months later, most families have not noticed any meaningful benefits and public opinion polls demonstrate strong opposition to these tax giveaways and disappointment that these tax benefits disproportionately benefit the wealthy and corporations.  Although Trump promised that enacting this tax package would lead employers to grant workers a $4,000 pay raise, very few employers have done this.  In contrast, many corporations are using their tax benefits to buy back shares of their corporate stock, which mostly enriches their CEOs and wealthy shareholders. Families are increasingly concerned that companies like Apple and Harley Davidson got massive tax breaks and rather than investing in their workers, these and other companies are buying back their stocks or moving their manufacturing jobs overseas.  

What You Need to Know:  This tax package cost $1.9 trillion over 10 years, which gives conservative members of Congress an added excuse to push cuts to Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, education, and other vital public services.  In fact, a new report this week by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) highlights that “federal debt held by the public is now at its highest level since shortly after World War II” and if federal laws remain unchanged (like the Trump-Republican tax cuts), federal budget deficits will increase significantly and boost the federal debt sharply.  In Congress, Democratic leaders opposed these tax cuts and are working to repeal the tax package, close corporate tax loopholes and ensure the wealthy pay their fair shar of taxes.

Seventh Circuit Removes Hold on Byrne-JAG Awards 

This week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit lifted the nationwide injunction against the Department of Justice (DOJ) effort to impose two new conditions on the fiscal year (FY) 2017 Byrne-JAG grants. Instead of releasing the awards without the conditions attached, the DOJ had been holding the awards.  As a result, no state or locality had received their FY 2017 grants. The seventh circuit was waiting for the Supreme Court to rule in the travel ban case because some of the underlying principles were similar. One new condition requires jails and prisons to give Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) 48 hours’ notice before the release of a person of interest; the second would require jails and prisons to give ICE access to their facilities.  

What You Need to Know:  With the nationwide injunction on the two conditions temporarily lifted, the Department will begin awarding the FY 2017 grants (with the two conditions) as early as this week.

Senate Approves Labor HHS funding 

The Senate Labor, Health, Human Services and Education Funding bill (Labor HHS) was approved 30 to 1 in the full Appropriations Committee. While it includes an additional $2 billion more than the House version, very few increases are invested in labor, education, and public health. Most new funding goes to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And like the House bill, the Senate bill does not get its fair share of the $18 billion increase for domestic spending provided in the budget deal earlier this year.  Small increases include a $100 increase in the maximum Pell award to $6,195 and increases of $125 million to both Title I and IDEA and $250 million for Head Start.

What You Need to Know: The bill is expected to move to a Senate floor vote, where it could be paired with the Defense spending bill.  The House Labor HHS bill is still pending further action in full committee.

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