Op-ed by Florence Tripi
CSEA Western Region President
June 5, 2018 — Most sane economists without an agenda will tell you living in a world where all the wealth exists with just a hand full of families is a civilization rife with societal problems including unemployment, poverty, lowered life expectancy, crime, despair and hopelessness.
If you haven’t already noticed, America is now an oligarchic society where the richest one percent now holds 40 percent of the nation’s entire wealth– more than the bottom 90 percent combined. CEO salaries are 271 times that of the average worker compared to 20 times in 1965. And unfortunately, things will probably get worse in the short term before we can see an uptick in prosperity for all.
The one leveraging factor counteracting the disparity of wealth and corporate greed in America is labor unions. In the decades following World War II, the middle class enjoyed unprecedented growth and prosperity because more people were able to come together to form strong unions. They were also able to build power in numbers and negotiate with their employers a fair return for the skills, craftsmanship and provisions they offered. It was a time when everyone prospered even rich folk— the economy was healthy and steadily growing.
However, in the past few decades we have seen union density shrink and with it middle-class wealth– thanks in large part to a sustained attack on the freedoms of working people by the political right and their corporate funders. These attacks are now reaching a fever pitch at the same time unions enjoy their highest approval ratings in nearly 15 years.
Later this month, the US Supreme Court will issue a decision in Janus v. the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a case engineered by anti-worker special interests to threaten the ability of public service workers, such as nurses, teachers, librarians, firefighters and corrections officers to stand together in a union. A decision in favor of Janus will turn the entire country into a “right to work” nation.
At specific issue in this case is the right of public service unions to collect “fair share fees.” Workers in a unionized shop have the right to join or not join the union. But because even non-members benefit from the better wages and working conditions that the union negotiates, they contribute a fair share fee to help cover the cost of representation. This is just common sense. When representing workers, there should be no such thing as a free ride or a free lunch.
The plaintiff and his supporters argued that this obviously fair arrangement is a violation of free speech rights. Their improbable claim is that public sector unions don’t bargain contracts, they just lobby and campaign. This is a distortion of the First Amendment and flat out wrong. By law, no one is required to join the union. No one is coerced or compelled to spend their money on political candidates or causes. Nothing in this case will change that.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Janus, it will potentially harm the ability of working people to organize. The legality of fair share fees has been repeatedly affirmed by lower courts and was enshrined more than 40 years ago in a unanimous Supreme Court decision in a case called Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.
The forces behind Janus are driven not by fidelity to first amendment rights or the US Constitution, but by greed and ideological animus. Their goal is to concentrate wealth in as few hands as possible by undermining the freedom of working people to make a decent living and support their families.
Whatever the Supreme Court decides, it’s important for average working folks to know CSEA is not going anywhere. We have been around for over 100 years and we will remain union strong.
Our CSEA members work day in and day out to make our communities stronger, healthier and safer. We’re the educators who teach your children, we are the nurses who care for your elderly parents and we are the heavy equipment operators who make sure our roads are safe in times of need. Working people are the threads that hold the fabric of our communities together.
When we go to the bargaining table, we are advocating not just for ourselves, but for provisions with universal benefits that strengthens all workers and our local communities. Public service workers don’t get rich doing their jobs, but they do keep our communities strong.
We will continue to proudly stand with each other arm in arm to do the business of the union, to celebrate all things labor and to protect the rights and values that helped build this great nation. CSEA will never quit. We will never quit fighting for our place at the table and having our voice heard at work– because when unions are strong– workers are strong. And when workers are strong– America is strong.