This is the first of a series of important informational emails going to all the campus unions’ members as we gear up for a national and campus Working People’s Day of Action.
On February 26, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Janus v AFSCME Council 31, a case by the right-wing National Right to Work Committee to ban unions from collecting agency fees from public sector workers who choose not to join their union. These workers would still be entitled to union representation for workplace problems, and would receive the same contractual rights, raises and benefits as union members. While patently unfair, “right to work” (or “right to work for less” as it’s often called) is the law in many states - and few among us would want the lack of workplace rights and lower wages found in those states! Extending “right to work” to the whole country has been the dream of corporate America for a long time. With Trump in the White House and Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, this dream could become a reality later this year.
The original complainer, Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-Ill.), has conducted a three-year war to destroy public worker unions. Rauner tried to bring the case himself, but lower courts threw him out of it because he isn’t directly helped or hurt by the fees. So then, the “National Right to Work Committee” recruited Mark Janus, a dissenter in an AFSCME-represented workplace, to say that by the very act of collecting the money, the union – through state action—forces him to support political stands he disagrees with.
The current situation, which allows “agency shop” provisions like we have at UMass - where non-members pay for representation (but not unions’ political work), has been in place since the Supreme Court’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision in 1977. Now, this status quo is in grave jeopardy and we could all suffer as a result.
Let’s call this what it is: an attack on the freedom of working men and women to have a voice in the workplace. Well-funded powerful corporations are behind this case and are out to destroy unions - both because they want workers to have fewer rights on the job, and because unions tend to back politicians who support the environment, a social safety net, and civil liberties. There is a direct negative correlation between union density and income inequality. As our opponents know, when the labor movement is thriving, we not only raise the wages, benefits and conditions of employment of union members; we raise the standard of living and quality of life of all working people, union or not.
What can you do?
Talk to your co-workers! Share this information with your colleagues and start reflecting on what your union means to you.
Make sure you have signed up to be a dues paying union member and ask your co-workers and friends if they’re signed up too. If they are agency service fee payers, talk to them about the importance of becoming a union member.
Look for more information next week and save the date for the Amherst UMass Unions United Working People’s Day of Action on February 26th at 12:00 PM in the Cape Cod Lounge in the Student Union