(This article first appeared in the July-August 2018 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine)
Anti-Union Janus Ruling Stiffens Labor's Resolve
As expected, the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court overturned 40 years of established law, ruling that municipal and state public sector unions cannot require nonmembers to pay for the costs of representing them. The case, Janus v. AFSCME, was brought by an Illinois state worker Mark Janus, but paid for by billionaires and corporate interests including the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation and the Charles Koch Institute.
The ruling overturns a unanimous 1977 Supreme Court decision in Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education that allowed local and state public sector unions to collect “agency fees” to cover the costs of nonpolitical union activity.
In a scathing dissent written for the minority, Justice Elena Kagan said the ruling “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.”
“This Supreme Court ruling is a blow to the entire labor movement” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “The billionaire class for years have been trying to defund and destroy unions. They funded this Supreme Court case and are certainly celebrating for the moment. But the APWU has shown that strong unions can be built and maintained in a post-Janus environment. And the West Virginia teachers and school personnel showed that even with the ‘open-shop,’ workers can – whether courts are on our side or not – build powerful movements and win.”
Anticipating the ruling, AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers and other public-sector unions have been developing new internal organizing strategies. The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, for example, asked each of its 11,000 public sector bargaining unit members in the California Bay Area to sign a new union membership card. Ninety-one percent of IFPTE’s Local 20 members have done so and the numbers continue to increase.
JetBlue Workers Vote for Union Future
Workers are standing up for a better deal at JetBlue. It’s one of the few companies in the airline industry that has operated in the past as a non-union carrier.
The future will be different. In April, flight attendants at the New York-based airline overwhelmingly voted for representation by the Transport Workers Union (TWU). In May, the Air Line Pilots Association announced a tentative agreement on a first contract with the airline.
TWU President John Samuelsen credited the 66 percent vote by Jet Blue flight attendants in favor of union representation to TWU’s aggressive record in negotiations. “If you have the audacity to stand up and fight, workers are drawn to that,” he said. TWU also represents flight attendants at Southwest Airlines.
Protecting Workers' Rights Sanders, Pocan Introduce "Workplace Democracy Act"
On Wednesday May 9, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the Workplace Democracy Act, with Representative Mark Pocan (D-WI) introducing a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.
This Act would protect the rights of the working class to form a union and collectively bargain for fair wages, benefits, and safe working conditions. “It is no secret that stagnant wages and the growing economic injustice in the United States has been the direct result of the all-out assault on working families and our unions over the past few decades,” said APWU Legislative and Political Director Judy Beard.
Key provisions of the Workplace Democracy Act:
- Allow for workers to organize through a majority sign-up process
- Require employers to begin negotiating within 10 days of receiving a request from a new union
- Eliminate deceptively named Right-to-Work (for less) laws
- Eliminate loopholes which allow employers to classify employees as independent contractors/supervisors to prevent organizing
- Allow for secondary boycotts or pickets, reinstating workers’ freedom of speech
- Require companies to disclose anti-union information they disseminate to workers
“The deck is stacked against workers,” said APWU President, Mark Dimondstein. “We welcome the introduction of pro-worker legislation which will put more power back in the hands of the people.”
The bill is co-sponsored in the Senate by Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Edward Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
The House bill is co-sponsored by Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), Mark Takano (D-CA), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).
Boeing Union Breaks Through in South Carolina
In a major organizing victory in the unorganized South, flight-readiness technicians at a Boeing plant in Charleston, South Carolina, voted to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). Sixty-one percent of workers voted in favor of the union.
“They stood up to a Goliath of a company,” IAM lead organizer Mike Evans told the Post and Courier. “We stayed on course with education and opportunity and respect and dignity going forward, and here we are today with a win.”
The vote creates a bargaining unit of about 200 workers out of 3,000 who work at the North Charleston plant. The IAM represents 35,000 Boeing workers in 24 locations, mostly on the West Coast.
Boeing workers are joining a growing labor movement in South Carolina. The labor movement’s ranks grew by 62 percent in the Palmetto state in 2017, adding 20,000 people for a total of 52,000 workers who are now represented by unions.