By Fred Wright, President, AFSCME District Council 47
On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against AFSCME Council 31 in Janus vs AFSCME. This ruling overturned a previous ruling that stood without challenge for decades. To give you a brief synopsis of events, AFSCME Council 31 (State workers in Illinois) has been in a long, drawn out battle with the Governor of Illinois, trying to maintain their benefits and achieve a fair contract. After several failed attempts to impose new terms on the Union members of the State of Illinois, Governor Bruce Rauner found a state worker to bring a lawsuit against the Union citing the right to freedom of speech.
This lawsuit was developed and funded by the National Right-to-Work Foundation using Mark Janus, an Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services employee, as a tool to advance their agenda of trying to weaken unions and working people in both the workplace and the polling booth. The Janus ruling transformed all public-sector employees into “right-to-work-for-less” employees and now this same group, along with Americans for Prosperity et al., are encouraging teachers, state workers and other public-sector employees to abandon their Union. To what end? For what reason?
Their union, AFSCME, along with PFT, Firefighters and SEIU, have fought for years for their members obtaining and maintaining medical benefits, pensions, paid time off, and contractually guaranteed wage increases – a stark contrast to the State of Pennsylvania and/or the federal government not having raised the minimum wage (currently $7.25) since 2006 – twelve years ago – despite outcries from mainstream America to do so. Where would these employees be without a Union? It was Unions who fought for social security, 40-hour work week, child labor laws, and safety in the workplace. These same regulations which benefit all workers are now being scrutinized by the same groups that advocate for “right-to-work.” Time and time again it has been proven that as Unions grow weaker, so too the middle class weakens and shrinks.
I’m proud to say that after this ruling, members and non-members alike have been contacting their Union to maintain their Union membership. Union members know firsthand what it would be like without a collective voice in the workplace. Union members know that they cannot depend on politicians or employers to grant them a wage increase every year, maintain their benefits, or provide a safe and healthy work environment.
The architects of the Janus Decision think that this decision will be a death blow to the public-sector unions. What they do not realize is that workers will always organize themselves for better wages and working conditions to sustain themselves, their families and their communities.