Monday, February 26, 2018

Janus V. AFSCME 31: Putting Working People First

From SeaTac fast food workers demanding a $15 hourly minimum wage and a union to public sector employees pushing for fully-funded education, Washington’s unionized workers have stood up for our communities and our right to thrive in our democracy.

The reforms championed by the labor movement transcend racial and socioeconomic lines. Unions have fought tooth and nail alongside the progressive movement to protect our right to fairness, dignity, and respect in a working environment where the wealthiest 1 percent take home 40 percent of the country’s income. Deeply engaged in the plights of the working American, Washington’s labor unions are integral to the struggles for equitable health care, police accountability, and much more—they’re necessary for a brighter, more equitable future for our state.

In recent years, billionaire CEOs and special interest groups have targeted unions with right-to-work laws and other legislation that knocks power away from the people. These conservative interests and their backers have now brought a case before the Supreme Court, Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which threatens to rig the economy even further.

Janus V. AFSCME 31

The ruling on Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 could mark a disastrous turning point in our fight to empower working people. It’s the latest in a series of lawsuits filed by corporate-funded special interest groups that seek to diminish the power of collective bargaining. By their own admission, these forces have spent millions trying to “defang and defund” unions so that they can privatize our public schools and services, keep wages low, and silence the voice of working people at the ballot box by weakening local unions. 

Like the ongoing attacks against women reproductive rights groups, Janus V. AFSCME is about breaking the backbone of the progressive movement by defunding the collective power of working people. The case’s plaintiff is Mark Janus, an Illinois union member who says that unions are forced representation and asserts that union workers should be able maintain autonomy by choosing not to pay dues that contribute to the union's political lobbying. A decision that sides with Mark Janus would enable public sector union employees the ability to opt out of the union, which essentially allows these employees to collect “union” benefits for free - including pay increases, workplace protections, representation, and employee benefits. 

Consequences of Janus

Across the country, workers are working longer hours and receiving less compensation, despite being more productive than ever. Many low- and middle-income Americans are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet because it’s the only way to repay student loan debt or raise their families, and this is especially true of people of color.

Today, union jobs are a path to economic mobility for people of color and women who are disproportionately hurt by income disparity. In sectors where union membership is high, workers from every background enjoy competitive wages and benefits that are reflective of their hard work. Historically, organized labor has played an integral role in integrating the workforce and empowering people of color with means to access higher socio-economic status. Today, Black union members earn 14.7% more than their nonunion counterparts and Latino union workers 21.8% more than theirs. African-American women in unions earn an average of $21.90 an hour while non-union women earn $17.04.

With Trump’s nominee Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench, law analysts of the Supreme Court suspect that organized labor will be dealt a devastating blow. Millions of workers will be impacted by the outcome and the potential consequences would be greater for people of color who are more likely to be on the receiving end of discrimination. 

But those who oppose public sector unions should not underestimate the collective resilience and strength of working people. Our collective movements are stronger together. Progressives will continue to be unfailing in support of unions’ ability to defend the rights of working people everywhere.