Opinion

Unjust Janus v. AFSCME decision won’t stop unions from fighting for all working people

Workers of AFSCME Local 3299, the union representing workers at UC Davis Medical Center, picket outside the medical center on Monday, May 7, 2018 in Sacramento, Calif.
Workers of AFSCME Local 3299, the union representing workers at UC Davis Medical Center, picket outside the medical center on Monday, May 7, 2018 in Sacramento, Calif. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

By overturning four decades of precedent in Janus v AFSCME, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a huge victory to some of the wealthiest corporate interests in America. While the ruling will surely help line the pockets of the millionaires in the corporate boardroom, for the rest of us, it’s yet another raw deal.

The court overruled the 1977 Supreme Court decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which affirmed the constitutionality of union members like teachers, firefighters and other public servants to vote to collect “fair-share” fees from those who are covered under a contract but choose not to be members of the union.

The Janus case was never about First Amendment issues, as its backers disingenuously claimed. It was always about hobbling unions as part of the agenda of billionaire right-wing donors, including the Koch Brothers.

The fees are only used to help cover the cost of collective bargaining from which all workers benefit; they’re never used to support political activity. The Abood decision was unanimous. Even the staunchly conservative Justice William Rehnquist concurred with that opinion, making the extremist views of the conservative justices on today’s court even more stark.

Make no mistake, the Janus case was never about First Amendment issues, as its backers disingenuously claimed. It was always about hobbling unions as part of the agenda of billionaire right-wing donors, including the Koch Brothers, to syphon money away from the middle class directly into their own pockets. These donors funneled millions of dollars into the organizations that brought this case to the Supreme Court with the intent to raze unions to the ground and further cement their power.

It’s not hard to understand why these corporate special interests want to destroy unions. Unions are a last line of defense for working people against corporate excess and greed.

When working people stand together in a union, we have some power to make a difference on some of the most critical issues our country faces today including paid family leave, pay equity for women, health care access and affordability, workplace safety and more.

A recent study by University of California, Berkeley researchers looked at the union effect in California. Their findings paint a striking picture.

Workers with a union on the job earn 13 percent more than non-union workers. Union coverage increases wages by 26 percent for women, 19 percent for black workers and 40 percent for Latinos.

Unions also decrease the likelihood of workers relying on public assistance by more than 30 percent, easing the burden on taxpayers and giving more people a pathway to achieving the American Dream.

It’s also important to look at what unions do for everyone. In the past several years, California unions have been the driving force to ensure all working families have paid sick days, lower prescription drugs costs, protection from exploitation, increased school funding and more good, family-supporting jobs. This year unions are spearheading measures to curb sexual harassment and other workplace abuses.

In an era of corporate dominance over every aspect of the economy, unions remain the strongest countervailing force fighting on behalf of all workers, not just our members. When the halls of our Capitol in Sacramento are flooded with corporate lobbyists trying to undo hard-fought rights of working people, it’s unions that stand in the way.

Some observers will be tempted to frame the Janus decision as the death of labor. Don’t count on it. Unions have withstood attacks for more than a century and we’ll survive this one.

In fact, unions are more popular than ever, especially with young people – the future workforce. A recent Pew study found that more than two-thirds of 18-to-29-year-olds have a favorable view of unions.

No doubt this decision makes it more difficult for working people to have the freedom to join strong unions. But, even in the darkest of times, workers find a way to organize for a better life.

California’s labor movement, despite this unjust decision, is committed to giving every working person a path to a better future.

Art Pulaski is the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the 2.1 million member California Labor Federation. Reach him at apulaski@calaborfed.org.

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