Opinion: Workers deserve freedom to thrive on the job
Yesterday, Americans celebrated the freedom being a citizen of this great country brings. But increasingly, millions of workers are seeing their rights being chipped away and are finding it harder to make ends meet. Nowhere was that more evident than in a decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court last week that curtailed their ability to join together and stand up for themselves on the job.
The ruling in “Janus v. AFSCME” was not surprising, but is still disappointing. The case dealt with an Illinois state government employee, Mark Janus, who didn’t want to pay “fair share” fees covering contract bargaining and representation activities. As part of its ruling, the High Court determined such payments are unnecessary, even though unions will still be mandated to represent these public sector workers going forward.
Luckily, the Teamsters aren’t being caught flat-footed. In preparation of a possible legal loss, Teamster locals that represent public employees worked to convert fair-share payers into full union members. Beefing up internal organizing is the key to combatting this latest threat against organized labor.
But to be frank, it shouldn’t be necessary. This case was not about the First Amendment, as the majority seemed to indicate in its decision. Instead, it was about the whole contributing to gains for all workers in a given workplace.
Authorities have enough evidence already to understand that curbing unions doesn’t help hardworking Americans. In states where laws were passed to limit the ability of public employees to join a union and demand better wages, benefits, and working conditions, the results have hurt working people and their families.
As it stands, the average non-union worker makes more than $11,000 less that the average union worker. And in states with so-called right-to-work laws, the risk of death on the job is 55 percent higher; workers are 13 percent more likely not to have health insurance; and the poverty rate is more than 15 percent higher.
While it is true that this ruling may create temporary roadblocks, public employees throughout the U.S. need to remain unified. They cannot allow the progress working people have made in unions to be slowed down because of lawsuits that disregard the value of public employees.
The Janus decision came about because anti-employee forces spent millions of dollars on lobbying and court challenges over four decades. Attacks from these outside groups, backed by secret donors, sought to eliminate the freedom of public employees to negotiate with their employer. Public sector Teamsters have made it their career to serve their country and community, and any attempt to take away their freedom to join together is an attack on those who are the foundation of America.
The middle class was built by everyday working people, standing together in union. The Teamsters honor that history by continuing the fight to give working people the promise of the American dream. That won’t end with the Janus decision. The Teamsters will continue to organize, mobilize and do whatever is necessary to achieve prosperity through collective action.
But it is imperative for elected officials to look at how anti-worker policies are affecting the lives of their constituents. While corporations prosper, workers are struggling. The people must not be forgotten.
James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.