People marching and one closeup of a picket sign reading Worker Rights are Human Rights

“Workers’ Rights are Human Rights” sign at Madison, Wisconsin Capitol protests, March 12, 2011. (Photo: Maurice Menocal) Retrieved from Ceasefire

Today an anti-worker majority of justices on the United States Supreme Court struck down 40 years of precedent permitting public sector unions to collect a fair share fee from workers who receive the benefits of collective bargaining and representation in the workplace. The ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, like similar legislation in Congress and so-called right to work initiatives in Ohio, is the result of a multi-year campaign by corporate interests and wealthy individuals who oppose the very idea that workers should have freedom of association, economic power and a voice in our system of government.

Under the high court’s decision, unions must still negotiate for and represent all workers in a bargaining unit, including those who refuse to pay a fee for the benefits and services they receive from the union. The Court’s decision also forces loyal union members who voluntarily pay dues to subsidize anti-union co-workers who refuse to pay while receiving the same wages, benefits and working conditions as union members. But the Janus decision is about more than the “free-rider” problem.

More than one-third of the 17.4 million state and local government workers in the United States are represented by unions. Unions provide dignity and real economic benefits to all workers regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability status or religion.  Janus is intended to financially weaken unions and reduce their strength as an advocate for economic and social justice. Minority workers, in particular, have the most to lose from Janus.

For example, Black women represent the largest share of public sector employment. Black men and women in public sector unions experience a smaller gap in pay compared to nonunion jobs.  Hispanic women also receive better pay and health care benefits compared to their nonunion peers. Unions also provide significant benefits to all Latino workers.  Among all full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median weekly earnings of $1,041 in 2017, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $829.

Judicial and legislative attacks on unions should be a matter of concern to all of those who fight for social justice in our community. That’s because the goal of Janus and other anti-union initiatives is to turn back the clock on worker rights and the civil rights in the United States. The stakes are very high: there is no modern example of a just society without a strong labor movement to unite working people of diverse backgrounds.  It should come as no surprise that Janus is not the first attack on the labor movement.

In the 1920s, employers launched the so-called open shop drive, a massive campaign intended to eliminate unions following a wave of strikes by veterans, immigrants and other workers after World War I.  Union membership fell significantly, but the labor movement was not defeated. Beginning in the 1930s, dedicated organizers and visionary leaders organized millions of workers into craft and industrial unions, forced the passage of labor laws, jobs programs and social insurance benefits, and helped lift generations of working people out of poverty and into the middle class in the decades that followed.  As Dr. Martin Luther King stated, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

In the Janus era, the labor movement will continue to organize working people and guarantee that their voices are heard and their votes are counted. The Central Ohio Worker Center proudly stands in solidarity with unions and their members across Ohio and the United States.  Today we remind ourselves of the old labor slogan, “Don’t Mourn, Organize!”

Free Press History: