On June 27th, the U.S Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that all public sector unions will now be forced to represent “free riders” — workers who want the benefits of collective bargaining without having to pay for it.
This outrageous decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 making the entire public sector “right to work” will deny many workers their right to be represented by a strong union, dramatically increase income inequality, and drive a stake through the heart of America’s middle class.
Equally reprehensible, the decision is tainted by the fact that the deciding vote was cast by Justice Neil Gorsuch, who should not even be on the high court. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s corrupt, anti-democratic refusal to even hold hearings on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and the Vladimir Putin-aided election of Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote by 3 percent, make Gorsuch the “fruit of the poison tree.” This is a legal term used by courts to deny evidence seized through illegal means. Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court by way of a seat stolen from Garland fits this definition.
As the AFL-CIO noted, this case is a brazen attack on working men and women. Its sole purpose is to reduce membership in public sector unions by letting workers “free ride,” thereby weakening the power of organized labor to fight for members in the workplace and the corridors of power. The end result will be even more unrestrained power for big business and billionaires, lower wages and benefits for workers, and more policies at all levels of government that favor profits over people.
In a sharply-worded dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the five justices who ruled against public sector workers and their unions were “turning the First Amendment into a sword, and using it against workaday economic and regulatory policy.”
Even though it doesn’t affect our union directly, all OPCMIA members should share my dismay over the Janus decision. Anything that harms one set of workers and the unions that represent them hurts all workers. That is what solidarity is all about. The stronger the overall labor movement is, the stronger OPCMIA is.
As I noted in a previous column, the Janus case is the centerpiece of a lavishly-funded campaign by extremist billionaires to destroy all unions, including ours. A web of anti-worker organizations worth billions of dollars financed this case. They decided to take it all the way to the Supreme Court only after Gorsuch was on the bench. And now they’re taking advantage of this tainted ruling by starting an all-out campaign of sending letters to union members urging them to become free riders.
Now that the Court has done its dirty work, what can OPCMIA members do to fight back?
First and foremost, get more involved in your union. Serve as a steward, attend meetings, join actions, volunteer to support pro-worker candidates, and contact your elected officials whenever asked.
Second, with Justice Anthony Kennedy’s just-announced retirement, call your senators and urge them to oppose any Supreme Court nominee who agrees with the Janus decision and holds other anti-worker views. The idea that a minority president elected with the assistance of a hostile power could get to appoint two justices for life is utterly appalling.
Third, work tenaciously to take back Congress in this fall’s elections, so that we can stop the anti-worker agenda advanced by the billionaire extremist Koch brothers and put in place by Trump and McConnell, and start advancing the interests of workers once again.
Brothers and sisters, it’s up to us.
Daniel E. Stepano