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.