Freedom to Join
Working people's freedoms are under attack.
In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court will decide a case called Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, that threatens to take away the freedom of working people to join together and negotiate for better wages and working conditions.
Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31
What Is Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, and Why Is It Important?
Unions are required by law to represent and negotiate on the behalf of all workers in a bargaining unit, regardless of whether the individuals they represent are dues-paying members. This case, if decided in favor of the corporate special interests, would prevent public-sector unions from collecting fair share fees from workers they represent who choose not to join the union, which in turn makes it more difficult for working people to negotiate better wages and benefits, and the kind of working conditions that set standards for everyone.
The fact is no one is ever forced to join a union and no one is forced to pay anything to support the political activity designed to advance the rights of working people. This already is the law of the land—and this case, under the guise of freedom of speech, wouldn’t change that.
So What Is This Case Really About?
This case is a bald-faced attack on working people. When our dedicated public servants are free to come together and negotiate for better wages, working conditions, health care, retirement security, and clean and safe environments, all working people benefit. But the greedy CEOs and corporate special interests behind this case want to weaken and restrict the voices of working people so they can grab even more wealth and even more power.
Who Is Mark Janus and What Is AFSCME, Council 31?
AFSCME Council 31 is a local union that represents 75,000 of Illinois’ public-sector workers. It makes sure the nurses and EMS workers and 911 dispatchers and security personnel who keep our communities clean and safe can negotiate for better working conditions and a fair return on their work. Mark Janus was an Illinois public employee who wanted all the benefits of a union contract without contributing anything in return.
But Mark Janus is just a name. It’s not even clear if he is all that invested in this case. But corporate-funded organizations such as the National Right to Work Foundation and the State Policy Network are certainly invested. These organizations are part of a network funded by corporate billionaires who want to use the courts to rig the rules against working people. They want to strike a “mortal blow” and “defund and defang” unions, and they fund politicians who carry their water.
In fact, this case originated from a political scheme by the governor of Illinois—and billionaire—Bruce Rauner, to advance an agenda that benefits corporations and the wealthy at the expense of working people. As soon as he took office, Rauner launched a political attack on public service workers and filed a lawsuit in his own name to bar the collection of fair share fees by public service unions. The case was dismissed, but the Right to Work Foundation stepped in on behalf of Janus to get the case before the Supreme Court.
What Happens if the Court Sides with Corporate Interests Instead of Working People?
If the court rules that workers can receive all the benefits of a union contract without contributing anything in return, then the unions that represent the interests of working people will be facing stiff headwinds. When corporate interests make it more difficult for working people to come together to negotiate for better wages and benefits, and safer working conditions, then all working people suffer through depressed wages, insufficient benefits and substandard working conditions. When working people don’t have the strength in numbers to advocate on their own behalf, then greedy CEOs and their toady politicians reward themselves at the expense of working people.
The United States already is facing an economic inequality crisis and a ruling against working people would only make matters worse. Wages would stagnate or depress, health care and retirement benefits would weaken, public schools and vital public services would be defunded, and laws that level the playing field would tilt in the favor of corporate interests.
It is my job to make sure that the public has safe drinking water. There is no room for any mistakes. That’s why I am deeply concerned that this Supreme Court case threatens the ability of the skilled and dedicated people I work with to have a say about their future.
Working People Are Organizing in Unions
Even if this corporate-backed case is decided against working people, unions will remain the best way for working people to advocate for workplace rights and counter the influence big money corporate interests have on our democracy. In fact, we’re witnessing a wave of working people joining together to make a difference in our workplaces and communities.
Among the many successes of 2018 include:
- Nearly 1,100 postdoctoral researchers at the University of Washington;
- Teachers and staff at City on a Hill school in New Bedford, Massachusetts;
- Burgerville restaurant workers in Portland, Oregon;
- The 235 employees at Nestle Purina in Edmond, Oklahoma;
- Nearly 5,000 JetBlue in-flight crew members;
- More than 5,000 Harvard University teaching and research assistants in Cambridge, Massachusetts;
- Some 700 employees at Atlanta Gas Light;
- Registered nurses and personal support workers at Spectrum Health Care in Toronto;
- Registered nurses at Stanford Health Care’s ValleyCare Medical Center in Pleasanton, California;
- Nurses and staff at UMass Memorial Hospital in Marlborough, Massachusetts;
- Hundreds of employees at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut;
- Staff from nine Democratic election campaigns;
- The editorial staff at The Onion, Jacobin and Mic;
- Aviation workers at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Eastern, Central and Western service centers;
- Teachers at California Virtual Academies;
- Parking production assistants in New York City;
- Food service workers at Airbnb in San Francisco;
- Staff at KUOW-FM 94.9 in Seattle;
- Employees at Micro-Clean;
- Emissions workers in Michigan.