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Protecting our communities means keeping our unions strong


The rights of working people to join together in strong unions have strengthened their voice for higher wages, better benefits, and safer workplaces and communities. Unfortunately, over the last few decades, big corporations and CEOs have conducted well-funded attacks, and the newest attempt is before the Supreme Court.

Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is a case designed to dramatically reduce union dues and starve the very entities that are representing workers at the bargaining table. If the lower court ruling against Mark Janus, a public-sector worker who doesn’t want to pay fees to the labor union that represents him, were overturned, this would effectively mean all public employees have the so-called “right to work.”

This is a big problem, and here’s why.

{mosads}Right now, the gap between rich and poor is larger than ever. Those pushing Janus are doing so because the freedom to form and join a union is one of the few tools workers have at their disposal to level the playing field with big corporations. As union membership has declined, the income gap has risen dramatically, with those at the top getting richer, while leaving the rest of us behind. Dramatically weakening labor unions will only make things worse.

The efforts to weaken and destroy unions ensure everyone loses. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that wages in those so-called “right-to-work” states are 3.1 percent lower than in states that don’t put those limitations on collective bargaining. EPI also found that, on average, a worker covered by a union contract earns 13.2 percent more in wages than a peer with similar education, occupation, and experience in a nonunionized workplace in the same sector.

Unions are also part of a broader movement to build a strong economy that works for all of us. Unions have allied themselves with other progressive organizations to protect Americans’ basic rights and to address the threat of climate change and other environmental challenges. Unions invest in training workers. Union workers can and do collectively bargain to make their workplaces, communities, and the environment safer and healthier. They have the ability to blow the whistle when they see dangers to themselves, their co-workers, the community around their workplace, and the environment because they know their union is in their corner to help protect them.

Finally, under this scenario, labor unions would represent workers even if they don’t pay dues into the union, which is unfair to the people that do pay union dues because workers are not just bargaining for their own wages — they are raising wages, improving benefits, and making workplaces safer and healthier for all workers in the marketplace. Collective bargaining by teachers in Philadelphia, for instance, ensured that school water systems are getting tested for lead, stopped class size increases for students, and ensured that each school has at least one nurse and counselor.

More people are realizing the danger we face and are speaking out against it. Working people and their allies will be joining together in 10 cities across the country Saturday, February 24, for Working People’s Day of Action to fight for the right to form strong unions, equal pay, affordable health care, quality schools, and a secure future for us all. Then, on Monday, February 26, union members from around the country will rally on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court and at 300 cities across the country as the court prepares to hear the case.

To protect our economy, environment, and communities, we need to keep unions strong. Together, we can help ensure workers have a voice on the job and an opportunity to make all of our lives better, as well.

Kim Glas is the executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, which unites labor unions and environmental organizations to solve today’s environmental challenges in ways that build a stronger, fairer economy. Glas previously held senior leadership positions in the Obama administration — as the deputy assistant secretary for Textiles, Consumer Goods, and Materials at the U.S. Department of Commerce — and the U.S. House of Representatives. Follow Glas and the BlueGreen Alliance on Twitter @BGAlliance.


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