By James P. Hoffa
Published in Detroit News, March 7, 2018
Workers in Michigan and across the nation have repeatedly come under attack from corporate interests looking to tamp down on wages so they can pocket higher profits. The latest example? A court case argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court last week that seeks to gut public sector unions in an effort to reduce their effectiveness in the workplace.
Mark Janus is the plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME. The Illinois social worker is protesting the reduced union fees he must pay to cover contract negotiation and other business the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees conducts on his behalf. Those backing his efforts are a who’s who of anti-union activists who view the lawsuit as an opportunity to disarm collective bargaining in this country.
Michigan workers know all too well the effect right to work has had on unions. Michiganians have seen their wages grow at a slower pace than their free bargaining state neighbors. Unions have been forced to represent workers who refuse to pay for the services unions provide.
These “free riders” rob unions of necessary funds that make them the effective pro-worker advocates they are today. But the law change has also reduced the availability of middle-class jobs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics earlier this year reported that union members had a median weekly income of $1,041, compared to non-union workers, who on average earned $829 a week. That’s a difference of more than $11,000 a year. It also doesn’t address the fact that union workers generally receive better health care and retirement benefits as well.
That’s why workers came together in Detroit and from coast to coast late last month to protest the Janus case as part of the Working People’s Day of Action. Harnessing the power of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 50years after his tragic assassination, they know hardworking Americans are going to get a raw deal if they don’t stand up for themselves.
For more than 40 years, federal law has provided public employees the right to join together in a union as a way to have a voice on the job with respect to how they are paid, the benefits they receive, and general conditions of employment.
If the high court overturns decades of legal precedent by disallowing the collection of “fair share” fees, it will be much more difficult for public employees to have a voice and for labor unions to have the financial resources to protect public employees and safeguard their negotiated wages, benefits and working conditions.
Though the Supreme Court justices will ultimately have the final say in the Janus case, the Teamsters and working people here in Michigan and across the country can be proactive by speaking about the benefits of a union, increasing membership and remaining unified. That way, overcompensated corporate executives who want total freedom to rewrite work rules to lower wages and eliminate benefits will realize that workers’ collective voices cannot be silenced.