American workers stand ready to demand change after Janus blow

Obviously, we’re disappointed with the Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME. A narrow five-justice majority, emboldened by a stolen seat, overturned four decades of commonsense precedent. It’s the latest misguided action by the most corporate-friendly court in our history.

On paper, the plaintiff was one man in Illinois. But in reality, a dark web of corporations and wealthy donors dead set on destroying unions and silencing workers were behind this case. Janus is part of a multipronged attack, spearheaded by corporate billionaires, to chip away at the progress working people have made for ourselves and our communities. This decision is a political stain on what once was the most honorable, independent body in the world. More importantly, it further empowers the corporate elites in their efforts to thwart the aspirations of millions of working people standing together for a better life.

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But make no mistake, I’m as optimistic as ever. I’ve been a proud union member for 50 years, so I’ve seen a lot. The labor movement has never depended on any politician or judge to decide our fate, and we aren’t about to start now. In the end, Janus will be a footnote. This moment in history is being defined by our organizing. Something is happening in America. It’s beautiful. It’s real. And it can’t be contained by five justices or 51 Republican senators, or even the president.

All over the country, workers are organizing and striking as we haven’t seen in years. In April, 15,000 workers joined or formed unions in a single week. That’s on top of the 262,000 new members who joined our ranks last year, and 75 percent of them are under the age of 35. This is despite the fact that too many of our labor laws have been written to undermine the freedom to organize. New research from MIT shows a 50 percent increase in the number of non-union workers who would vote to join a union today. Tens of millions of workers are ready to experience the transformational power of collective bargaining.

In many cases, all that stands in the way is a rigged system. Senate and House Democrats recently introduced key legislation designed to combat growing inequality and to strengthen the economic security of working people. The “Better Deal” labor law reform bills introduced in Congress — the Workers Freedom to Negotiate Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act — are a major step in the right direction.

Among other reforms, they would enact several key provisions expanding collective bargaining rights such as strengthening penalties against abusive and predatory corporations that violate worker rights, combating misclassification of workers as supervisors and independent contractors, strengthening our right to strike for the wages, benefits and working conditions that we deserve, creating a mandatory mediation and arbitration process to ensure that corporations and newly organized unions reach a first contract, banning state laws that undermine our freedom to join together and negotiate,  and protecting the integrity and fairness of union elections from employer propaganda.

We are proud to endorse these bills. Any candidate who wants the support of working people must do the same. Let me be clear: The Supreme Court is on the wrong side of history. What the justices did flies in the face of where workers want to go and need to go. It shows just how out of touch the Supreme Court is with our country.

Janus or no Janus, American workers are demanding a voice. We are standing up and speaking out for a better life. We are demanding a fair share of the wealth we help create. We are marching and organizing and bargaining and voting. And we simply will not allow a corporate-controlled Supreme Court to stop us from doing our job.

Richard Trumka is the president of the AFL-CIO. He previously was its secretary treasurer and is a past president of the United Mine Workers.