On Janus v. AFSCME, and Why We Need Public-Sector Unions

The following is a statement from Christine Owens, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project, on the U.S. Supreme Court’s oral argument in Janus v. AFSCME:

“Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Janus v. AFSCME, a case that seeks to undermine public-sector workers’ ability to improve their wages and working conditions. The case puts at risk the 17 million public-sector workers in unions—including teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters, and more—who have banded together to win higher wages, better working conditions, safer workplaces, health care, and retirement security. Their efforts have benefitted not only union members but non-union workers and communities served by those public workers as well, helping to raise workplace standards for everyone.

Janus is the latest example of the decades-long corporate-backed effort to use the Supreme Court to take away the freedom of working people to join together in strong unions, because unions give workers a powerful voice to speak up for themselves. Unions have played a critical role in building and protecting the middle class in America. They provide working families economic stability and give workers the tools to secure a good life, a good home, and a good education for themselves and their children.

“Alone, the average worker rarely stands a chance against the corporate Goliaths. It’s through the institution of unions that workers become a force to counter the deep imbalance of power in our economy and our democracy—and in fact, that’s why lavishly funded corporate interests are driving this litigation.

“This attack is felt most profoundly by women workers of color. A recent brief by the Economic Policy Institute finds that black women make up 17.7 percent of public-sector workers, the largest share of that group. Losing access to public employment’s path to the middle class is especially important today, when more than half of African-American workers and nearly 60 percent of Latino workers are paid less than $15 per hour. Strong unions advocate for equal opportunity for women and communities of color who have been systematically disadvantaged due to discrimination and prejudice.

“Weakening unions hurts us all as a society; as union membership has declined, income inequality has risen. And the American public gets that connection: new Gallup research shows that more than three in five Americans have a favorable view of labor unions. Support is even stronger among young people.

“The Supreme Court should reject this attack on fair-share fees in the 22 states that permit such fees for unions that negotiate for public workers’ wages, benefits, and protections. Just as it upheld fair-share fees more than 40 years ago, the Court should continue to permit individual public workers to choose whether or not to join a union, but also permit the unions that represent and negotiate on behalf of all public workers to collect fees in order to do their job.

“NELP represented 28 fair-share fee payers in an amicus brief filed in the case. Our clients were current and former home care workers in Illinois who were represented by a union that won better wages and working conditions for them. Being represented by the union unquestionably improved these workers’ lives—that’s really what is at stake in this case.”

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