The Court Attack


In the next few months, we expect the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on Janus v. AFSCME, a court case that aims to cripple public employee unions.

hg_10-16_10-41Janus argues that the mandatory collection of union dues violates the individual’s constitutional right to freedom of speech. A ruling against unions would entitle non-members to union benefits for free, placing a great financial burden on unions.

But my concern here is not to get wrapped up in an abstract philosophical or legal discussion. I want to make clear what’s at stake and to talk about our long-term strategy for living in a post-Janus world if the court goes against us.

What Janus is really about is politics and power.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is bankrolling the case. The foundation is tied to the State Policy Network, which brings together nearly 100 right-wing think tanks whose goal is to destroy unions and take over governorships and state legislatures.

Tracie Sharp, the head of the State Policy Network, is upfront about what the right-wing alliance must do. Its main task is to “defund” and “defang” public employee unions, Sharp says. The network seeks to deliver a “mortal blow” to public employee unions, the backbone of progressive politics in the country.

A bad ruling on Janus would make New York a right-to-work state where unions have less power. Our living standards would be at risk. Our pay would be held down.

We would lose our labor rights. Economic agreements between unions and employers would no longer exist.

Our response

DC 37 has already adopted a long-term plan called Leading the Way, which aims to significantly increase the number of activists and improve the internal structure of the union.

Thousands of members have reaffirmed their commitment to our institution by signing union membership cards. We have decreased the number of “agency fee” payers — city workers who pay dues but never signed up with the union — by thousands.

We are looking to intensify our action plan no matter what the outcome of Janus is. We want DC 37 to be a more militant union.

To anti-union right-wingers, I say be careful what you wish for. Workers are beginning to understand more clearly what has happened over the past four decades as the financial elite has tightened its grip on the political system and economy.

We are witnessing a growing backlash to our country’s deepening class polarization. Workers are fed up after years of stagnant wages, attacks on unions, deepening inequality and an erosion of such benefits as pensions and health care, whose costs employers continue to shift to their employees.

The recent statewide teachers strike in West Virginia appears to be a sign of what’s ahead. They won a salary increase without having collective bargaining rights. And they inspired teachers in other states — including our neighbors in Jersey City — to become more militant.

Despite the dark times we face, we should view the challenges before us as an opportunity for change and to fight back. Let’s work together for a rebirth of the labor movement.

This editorial appeared in the April 2018 issue of Public Employee Press, the official publication of District Council 37, AFSCME, which represents 125,000 municipal workers in New York City.

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