The Supreme Court has opportunity to rule in favor of American workers

A fundamental underpinning of democracy is the belief that collective action, by coming together for the common good, is the most effective way to extend our nation’s hallmark freedoms to all of us. By contrast, the best way for a select few to hoard wealth and power is to isolate us from each other. For decades, the latter principle has played out across our economy, as corporations increasingly divide and isolate workers, forcing them to fend for themselves and robbing them of the opportunity to join together in common cause.

We see it in the growing use of temporary and contract workers, who are unsure they have any workplace rights at all. We see it in corporate efforts, embraced by the Trump administration, to slam the courthouse door on workers banding together to challenge sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct.

Next week, this drive to divide plays out again in the Supreme Court, when the justices hear arguments in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31. Dressed to deceive, this is case is a wolf in sheep’s clothing in disguise, and it is nothing less than an attempt by lavishly-funded corporate interests to undermine the ability of workers to join together to advocate for themselves and their families.

Whatever yarn the Janus proponents spin, what this case is really about, pure and simple, is whether the men and women whose work affects us every day — firefighters and teachers, sanitation workers and bus drivers, caretakers for the young or the elderly — have the freedom to band together to fight for better wages and working conditions for themselves, their families, and for all of us.

Does preserving and protecting this right to act collectively matter? You bet it does. We see why in the worker-led “Fight for $15,” which has done more than any movement in recent years to rectify the power imbalance between low-wage workers and corporate executives. Likewise, the recent #MeToo movement has been so powerful, in part, because it has consisted of women, transgender people and others coming together and sharing their stories in a chorus of voices.

In the workplace, we are better off when we have the freedom to come together to collectively bargain for our rights on the job. When workers are able to join together in strong unions, they earn higher wages that lift up entire communities, including unorganized workplaces. Moreover, the people most vulnerable to abuses of power and unlawful employer actions are among the greatest beneficiaries of collective action: African American union members earn on average 14.7 percent more than non-union black workers.

It is no coincidence that at moments in our history when more workers were in unions, our economy was more equitable. Alone, the average worker rarely stands a chance against the corporate Goliaths. Nor can any of us acting alone as workers, consumers or voters “unrig” the economy so that it begins to work for all of us and not just the wealthy few. It will take all of us to make it happen.

As corporations and billionaire political donors continue to use their might to rig the economy in their favor, the ability of working people to unite is absolutely critical, which is why corporations and conservative politicians are doubling down on their decades-long crusade to dismantle worker unions.

Janus takes aim specifically at public employees and their unions, but we all have a stake in this fight. In many states, for example, public employee unions play a vital role in funding and administering skills training and other programs that ensure that our roads are safe and that emergency responders can help more people.

If we want our local governments to work for us, we have to ensure that public employees are empowered to do their jobs safely and well. Unions build that power better than almost any other entity. At its core, Janus reflects just one more attempt by the rich and powerful to amass even more wealth and power by dismantling a foundation of our democracy, which is the ability of the many to unite against the few, which is already harder now than it’s been in many decades.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Janus and the corporations, it will not only threaten public sector workers, but everyone who cares about protecting our most fundamental rights. We should hope for another outcome, but if it doesn’t come, we must do what we have always done, which is join even closer together to fight for a democracy and an economy that works for all of us. Now as ever, that will be the only way we can win.

You can read the original op-ed in The Hill.

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