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The Supreme Court’s Attack on Unions

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled against unions in a decision that will hurt organized labor and working families moving forward. Here’s what Janus v. AFSCME means for unions and progressive politics generally, and what you can do about it.

What was this case about?

Janus v. AFSCME began as a political scheme by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-IL), who shortly after taking office issued an executive order and filed a lawsuit trying to ban union “fair share” fees. Under the law at the time, all public sector employees had been able to choose whether or not to join their unions but non-members had to pay a fair share union fee since the union is required to negotiate on behalf of all workers. Forty years ago, the Supreme Court unanimously approved these kinds of cost-sharing arrangements.

When Rauner’s lawsuit was dismissed, the National Right To Work Foundation and part of a network funded by billionaires and corporate CEOs stepped in and bankrolled the effort to weaken the power of public sector unions and working families across the country. Janus vs. AFSCME was born.

Because of the Janus decision, public sector unions will no longer be able to collect fees automatically from the employees they represent, which has the potential to severely cripple their ability to affect progress for working families on and off the job.

How does this case advance the Trump agenda?

Make no mistake, this lawsuit is part of a coordinated effort from far-right groups to undermine unions and to ensure “the permanent collapse of progressive politics,” as a fundraising letter from Koch-backed State Policy Network put it. Below are just a few additional stats on the impact unions make that is counter to the Trump agenda of favoring corporations and the wealthy.

Union decline lowers wages of non-union workers: Union decline in the private sector since the late 1970s has contributed to substantial wage losses among workers who do not belong to a union. This is especially true for men who did not complete college or go beyond high school: they suffer an estimated annual wage loss of $3,016 or $3,172 per person, respectively. 

Union job pay and benefits are better: Unionized workers earn 10 percent to 20 percent higher wages than their similar non-unionized counterparts. Unionized workers are more likely to have paid sick leave, medical benefits, retirement benefits, life insurance, and paid holidays than their non-union counterparts. Children of union members have higher future wages. Not only so, low- income children in areas with higher union density will have higher income in the future. 

Unions reduce gender and racial pay inequality: The size of the gender pay gap for union workers is only half the size of the gap for non-union workers. Unionized workers of color experience a larger boost in pay. Latino and African American men who belong to a union earn $264 and $187 more per week than their non-union counterparts respectively. Latina, African American and Asian women who belong to a union all have higher wages than their non-union counterparts. Specifically, Latina union workers’ median weekly earnings are 31 percent higher than those of non-union Latina workers. 

The decline of unionization accelerates income inequality: Research shows that union decline is associated with increased inequality. From 1973 to 2007, the decline of unions explained up to one-third of rising wage inequality among men and about one-fifth among women. 

What can your Member of Congress do now?

While elected officials can’t stop or reverse the Supreme Court decision, they can empower workers and unions through legislation. In fact, from the 1930’s to today, Congress, state, and local governments have facilitated the biggest surges in union membership levels.  

  • Elected officials can be public about their support for unions and progressive causes. They can declare their support for workers joining unions and the critical role that unions play in raising wages and balancing corporate power.
  • Elected officials can introduce and/or cosponsor legislation that makes it easier for workers to join unions.
  • Elected officials have a wealth of appointments to boards and commissions that can serve to empower workers.

What should candidates for Congress commit to do?

No one running for Congress should earn your vote unless they commit to raise the minimum wage and protect union rights. The Fight for $15 movement has galvanized workers across the country who are working hard and struggling to get by every day. Thousands of workers, from fast food to child care to home care, have joined strikes and other actions to win $15/hour and union rights. Ask candidates for Congress the following questions and get them on the record in support of workers:

  • If elected, would you stand with workers in the Fight for $15 who are demanding higher wages and union rights? Would you reaffirm the importance of unions to our communities and take actions on behalf of workers such as attending rallies, issuing public statements in support of workers, contacting employers, sponsoring public forums and otherwise supporting workers who are trying to build power in our economy? 
  • If elected, would you support federal legislation to give millions more workers the chance to join a union if they so choose, give more people access to collective bargaining without employer interference, create opportunities for workers to help set or negotiate wages across industries rather than shop-by-shop , and strengthen protections for all workers who speak up about their wages, working conditions, and other important issues that affect their family’s well-being?