The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 is a ruthless and brazen attack on the freedom of working people. It caps off a shocking Supreme Court term, which saw the justices threaten the rights of women, LGBTQ people, Muslims, and now public service workers.
The 1.6 million members of AFSCME keep American communities safe and strong through their selfless service. We are social workers, EMTs, corrections officers, school custodians and more. We plow the roads, drive the school buses and pick up the trash. But that is apparently not enough to get a fair hearing before the nation’s highest court.
To do that, they want to “defund and defang” public-sector unions, silencing our voice and snatching away our seat at the table, undermining our freedom to build power together and negotiate for a fair return on our work. They target us because we fight economic inequality, and they benefit from it. They come after us because we lift wages across the board — especially for women and people of color — and they want to keep that money for themselves.
That’s the agenda driving the Janus case and the court’s decision. It has nothing to do with free speech rights and everything to do with wealth and political power. It has everything to do with billionaires and corporate interests grabbing more for themselves, with five men in judicial robes doing their bidding.
The court’s decision is also a breathtaking act of judicial activism. It reverses a longstanding precedent that has helped to keep labor peace in communities nationwide for more than four decades. By imposing a one-size-fits-all solution, it violates the principles of federalism that conservatives claim to cherish. Justice Kagan put it best in her dissenting opinion:
“There is no sugarcoating today’s opinion. The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this Nation’s law — and in its economic life — for over 40 years. As a result, it prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance. And it does so by weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.
But we are unbowed by this decision. We will continue to do what we have always done, but now with greater energy and passion.
We will organize in our workplaces and our communities — more than 18,000 people have joined AFSCME through new organizing campaigns just since 2016. We will educate about issues affecting working people. We will fight for racial and economic justice. We will mobilize people to take collective action — and that includes encouraging them to vote for pro-worker candidates in the November elections.
One court case will not determine the fate of AFSCME or the labor movement. We will remain a vibrant force that lifts up all working people, whether they belong to unions or not. The grassroots momentum is on our side. Public support for unions is at 61 percent, its highest level in 15 years, according to Gallup. The Janus decision will not slow us down; it will fire us up. It will strengthen the bonds of solidarity and embolden working people to stick together in strong unions.
Lee Saunders is president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a labor union of 1.6 million American workers.