By Jean Forman
This new year will be a pivotal year in many ways for union membership. There are two crucial events intersecting in the months ahead with the potential to vastly alter our union safety net as we know it.
First, the US Supreme Court will be hearing Janus v. AFSCME. This case threatens public sector union membership. A ruling in favor of the plaintiff, Janus, would eliminate the ability of these unions to collect representational fees from employees who choose not to join the union but still receive its protection and services.
Historically, it is important to understand that a previous case heard by the Supreme Court, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, made for labor peace by establishing the fee payer level in the first place. That case from the 1970s has withstood the years until recently. In 2016, the Supreme Court heard Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, where plaintiffs directly challenged the Abood ruling. The bench stood at only 8 members at that time, and the law was left unchanged as a lower court ruling was upheld with a 4-4 tie. The current case of Janus v. AFSCME, however, now faces a full bench of 9 justices.
Next, 2018 is the midterm elections. As union members, regardless of our individual political leanings, we must protect our right to organize. This means being focused on the issues that matter most to us as union workers, such as the “Right to Work” threat. Right to Work is a misnamed initiative that is a proven detriment to workers. Studies have shown again and again that Right to Work states have lower wages, limited benefits, and higher rates of injury.
Our work as union members has provided us with salary gains, pensions, and workplace protections such as Safe Patient Moving Standards and Workplace Violence Prevention. Union members receive due process and have an established grievance procedure. Imagine your work life without these benefits!
While there is not much more we can do to influence the case before the Supreme Court, as active union members, we can be involved this year in electing candidates at the local, state, and national level who will champion union membership as a needed protection for all workers.
Please contact the MNA Political Coordinator Katie Gjertson (firstname.lastname@example.org) at the MNA office to find out how you can get involved. There are opportunities for every comfort level of activism. Your Government Affairs Commission (GAC) members are ready to get to work on the objectives laid out at convention. With our legislative priorities set, all we need is you!