Future Of US Unions Now In Supreme Court’s Hands


By Charles Wowkanech, President of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO,

The U.S. Supreme Court soon will be the stage of one of the most consequential fights in the history of the American worker.

Anyone concerned with the future of middle-class jobs in our nation deserves to get the facts. Rather than sifting through the complexities of this legal battle, the goal of this article is to make clear to readers the real-life implications of this impending court decision.

The case is called Janus v. AFSCME, and it is scheduled to be heard by the court on Feb. 26. At its core, this case is a direct attack on collective bargaining rights and undermines the ability of all workers to join together and negotiate with their employer for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of wage and salary workers who were members of a union was 10.7 percent in 2017, down from a peak of 33.4 percent in 1945. This might lead someone to ask: If union membership is such a small proportion of the workforce, why should anyone worry?

History however, makes it clear that as the percentage of union membership declines, so too does the percentage of income held by the middle class as a whole.

The refrain “United we stand, divided we fall” is a simple way of reminding people that the well-being of all working people is intertwined. When workers stick together, we maximize our voice on the job and gain the opportunity to earn a decent living. However, when workers are divided, none of us alone has the power to withstand attacks that can topple us one by one. The Janus case is only the latest example of the effort to pit workers against one another.

Unions create a level economic playing field that allows all workers to enjoy a better standard of living. But there are economic forces at work, and government policy plays a crucial role in our economy. To say that these policies have missed the mark is an understatement.

It’s not just the nation’s broken trade deals that have thrown workers under the bus. Reducing labor costs has become an art form among businesses and is a key driver of profit in the modern economy. Furthermore, anti-worker policies such as right-to-work, championed by corporate America, have become a tool to enrich businesses at the expense of working people.

In recent years no labor policy has gained as much traction as right-to-work, which has been adopted by 28 states, with the six most recent laws being passed between 2012 and 2017, as a result of groups such as the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation funded by the Koch brothers and America’s biggest corporations. Such a policy functions only to weaken unions under the guise of “protecting” individual liberty. Following the money makes it immediately clear where the intent of this policy lies.

So what does any of this have to do with the Janus case? The answer is pretty simple: Janus v. AFSCME is the judicial equivalent of right-to-work. One key difference is that rather than applying to a single state, this case would apply to every public-sector job across the nation. Of course, such a broad-based attack on workers would leave no group unscathed.

As tumultuous as it may seem, the Trump administration has a laser focus in its effort to enrich corporate America at the expense of working families. With President Donald Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, he has once again stacked the deck against working families while claiming — as any good salesman would — that he has come to their rescue.

No matter the outcome of this case, working people have the power to set the course for the future. The formula is simple: When workers unite and come together in common purpose, we can achieve an economy that works for all.

This movement has already begun, and we invite all working families to join on Saturday, Feb. 24, as part of the national Working People’s Day of Action. Rallies will be held across the country to maximize our collective voice.

Visit itsaboutfreedom.org to find the location nearest you.

If ever there was a time for working people to stand up for their rights, that time is now.

 Charles Wowkanech is the President of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, representing more than one-million union members and their families.

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