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Point: Wealthy attack freedom to form strong unions

Jul 04, 2017
  • state journal register, janus vs. AFSCME, labor unions, unions, supreme court, SCOTUS, friedrichs

    The State Journal Register

By Roberta Lynch
June 29, 2017

When working people have the freedom to speak up together through unions, we make progress together that benefits everyone. But today — with a shrinking middle class and a growing gap between the rich and the rest of us — the last thing America needs is an assault on the freedom to form strong unions and speak up for ourselves and our communities.

Unfortunately, attacking the freedom of working people to come together is exactly what the Janus v. AFSCME lawsuit is all about. Although fronted by a lone state employee, the case is bankrolled by the National Right to Work Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center — the litigation wing of the Illinois Policy Institute — part of a network funded by billionaires and corporate CEOs who use their massive fortunes to tilt the playing field in their favor.

Now these forces want the highest court in the land to take away the freedom of average Americans to come together to achieve things our families need, like a living wage, retirement security, affordable health care and the ability to care for loved ones.

Under current law, every union-represented teacher, police officer, caregiver or other public service worker may choose whether or not to join the union — but the union is required to negotiate on behalf of all workers whether they join or not. Since all the workers benefit from the union’s gains, it’s only fair that everyone chip in toward the cost. That’s why 40 years ago a unanimous Supreme Court approved the kind of cost-sharing arrangements known as fair share.

The Janus v. AFSCME case is an effort by powerful corporate interests to outlaw fair share, encouraging workers to contribute nothing toward the cost of union representation. It actually began as a political scheme by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who shortly after taking office issued an executive order and filed a lawsuit trying to ban fair-share fees.

This case won’t change the simple truth that no one is required to join a union and no one is required to pay any fees that go to political candidates. That’s already the law of the land. This case is about eroding the freedom of working people to come together, speak up for each other and improve their lives by negotiating to make the rules about benefits, hours and wages more fair.

In a recent interview with the right-wing Hoover Institution, Governor Rauner dropped the ruse that his assault on unions is about economic policy, saying it has “nothing to do with any of the budget.” Instead, he said, it’s about “chang[ing] the culture and the power structure in Illinois.” That means tipping the scales of our economy and our democracy even further against regular people, while amassing more wealth and power for billionaire CEOs like him.

Union members know we only make progress when we come together, not just for ourselves but to improve the lives of all. We understand that real freedom is about more than making a living; it’s also about being able to see the doctor, attend a parent-teacher conference and volunteer in the community.

The wealthy corporate special interests behind this case want to undermine that freedom. They want to take away the power in numbers that working people need to win better lives for ourselves, our families and our communities. But no matter how much money the billionaires throw at us, no matter how craven and vicious their attacks, social and economic justice for all are visions we’ll never quit working to achieve.

— Roberta Lynch is the executive director of AFSCME Council 31, which represents 100,000 active and retired public service workers.

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