Friday, October 22, 2021
Labor unions emerged in the latter part of the 19th century out of the desperation of the working class to fight back against the oppression that was forced upon them by the rich, powerful few. Individual workers could not stand up against those who employed them; rather, they were relegated to work for whatever wages set by their employer. As workers sought any recourse, it became apparent that the individual was powerless. However, by banding together, workers could fight against the powerful few who determined the dismal fate of the working class. The battles fought by early labor movements have brought us to a day where union members now have a voice at the table regarding working conditions, wages, and benefits we receive.
For as long as unions have had a seat at that table, there has been a push to dismantle and remove unions from having a voice. This push has become stronger and far more dangerous to labor unions over the past few years. Small but very wealthy special interest groups are spending millions of dollars to weaken the power of unions. Their hope is to put the money, which should be spread across the millions of hard-working Americans, into their own pockets. June 27, 2018 marked a turning point for those wealthy few with the Supreme Court decision of Janus v. AFSCME. The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that union members could opt-out of their union membership and still receive contractual benefits without contributing financially. One might argue that if unions are so great, why would anyone choose not to be part of one if given the opportunity. The answer is simple: wealthy special interest groups dangle millions of dollars in front of individual members to convince them to fight against their own unions. These organizations present themselves as “protectors” of individual freedoms with euphemistic names, such as the National Right to Work Organization and Liberty Justice Center. Ironically, prior to union organization, hard-working men and women had few liberties and were far from free. Their “right to work” was inevitable to ONLY work, for long hours at low pay in the worst of conditions. These organizations are paying millions of dollars to fund these Supreme Court cases, which can only mean the money to be gained for these organizations is far more lucrative than the money they are spending. The individuals they pull from union organizations, whom they convince to bring cases to the Supreme Court, are mere pawns in the long-drawn-out chess match.
Unions have always had an opt-out period each year for members to decide if they want to continue their union membership. The National Right to Work Organization has recently moved two more pawns, Joanne Troesch and Ifeoma Nkemdi, who are teachers in the Chicago Public Schools. Lawyers of the organization have filed a petition with the Supreme Court seeking to void membership contracts signed by these two teachers prior to the Janus ruling. They argue members should be able to withdraw their membership at any time, not just during the annual opt-out period. Moreover, this case opens the door for any member to potentially withdraw his or her membership and seek repayment of all membership dues paid prior to the Janus ruling. Do not be fooled; if the plaintiffs prevail in this case, the anti-union organizations will use the ruling as an opportunity to financially cripple unions - which is what they tried to accomplish but failed with the Janus ruling. These organizations are pushing for a check-mate on unions. We need to be cognizant of their strategy, so we are not caught off guard. Losing this game is not an option. We must remain a strong organization that continues to have a voice at the table regarding our working conditions. We need active members who see the power in our collective voice. Only our unity secures our freedoms!