On Feb. 26, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case called Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 (Illinois). The case is an effort to overturn a 40-year decision – Abood v. Detroit Board of Education – which permits unions and public employers to negotiate agreements that require all represented employees to share in the cost of their union representation over basic workplace issues when the law requires the union to represent all employees, and not just its members.
If the court sides against everyday working people and aligns with wealthy and powerful extremists, as is expected, then workers’ freedom to exercise workplace democracy will be drastically weakened. Employees working with the benefit of a union contract will have the option to take all the perks and benefits negotiated by their union co-workers, but without having to pay a cent to enforce that agreement.
Over time, employees will be tempted and some will choose to drop their union dues and take the benefits for free. Decades of progress on job safety, health care, retirement benefits and equitable pay will erode as union members lose resources used to defend and improve employee contracts.
The court’s ruling against workers would effectively result in national “right to work” for less for all public employees, those who provide the critical public services on which all citizens rely: law enforcement, hospital workers, corrections officers, social workers, state police, highway workers, fire investigators, probation officers and countless other occupations.
Pull back the curtain on the right-to-work deception and you will see who is pushing this destructive agenda, and why: Billionaires like the Koch brothers’ Virginia-based think tank, Americans for Prosperity and the Virginia-based State Policy Network – who try to fool New Mexicans by naming their state arm “The Rio Grande Foundation”. These mega-funded organizations make no secret of their intent to destroy unions in order to shift money from workers to billionaires.
On Saturday, tens of thousands will rally across the country to protect our freedoms and fight back against wealthy corporate CEOs and politicians who have pushed for these “right to work” for less agendas that rig the economy against working people even further.
In Albuquerque, union members will rally with faith and community leaders – and a rock band, Bandwidth No Name – from 4 to 6 p.m. in Nob Hill, at Amherst and Central NE. There will be speeches and information sharing on how unions have built, and continue to build, America and the middle class, and work with allies to protect our communities.
Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood with sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., as they fought for the freedom to join together as a union and be treated with respect at work. Taking to the streets, Dr. King and the sanitation workers boldly proclaimed: “I AM A MAN.” The 65-day strike was won, but at a terrible cost with the deaths of two sanitation workers and the assassination of King.
That struggle continues today. Simply put, freedom and workplace democracy are what unions fight to protect; that a majority of workers, speaking through their union, can vote and set the terms and conditions of employment for every eligible worker on the job. Negotiating with the employer to require everyone pays a fair share for those benefits is part of that freedom.
We cannot sit on the sidelines. This is a “which side are you on?” moment. To echo Dr. King’s call for freedom, I’m joining the Working People’s Day of Action on Saturday.
Now is the time for all of us to come together as a community and stand up for the freedoms working people deserve – freedoms that we fought for through the labor and civil rights movements. Freedoms that if lost, will take decades to recover.