Executive Director Reports

AFSCME never quits

Unions faced with unprecedented assault in high court


 Roberta Lynch

Roberta Lynch

Does Bruce Rauner go out for late night cocktails with Charles and David Koch, the infamous uber-rich brothers who are seeking to remake the American political landscape with their vast fortune? Does this trio rendezvous every year at some exclusive resort or jet off together to some tropical island? Do they brainstorm together about what company to take over next or where to invest their mega millions?

These are things we regular folks will likely never know.

But whether or not they’re drinking buddies or traveling companions, Rauner and the Kochs are most definitely political soulmates, joined at the hip by a fierce desire to silence the voices of average working families in the political arena and the workplace. Their strategy for achieving that aim is straightforward: eradicate unions, especially public employee unions.

Without the organized strength of the millions of working people who belong to unions today, the superrich would effectively control the entire political process. Theirs would make up the overwhelming bulk of campaign contributions, theirs would be the only viewpoints offered up in a conglomerated media world in which they hold the controlling financial interest, and theirs would be the loudest voices in the policy debates over the critical issues of our time.

The interests of the Kochs and Rauner converge most clearly in a case now before the US Supreme Court that seeks to banish ‘fair share fees’ in the public sector. In fact, the connection could hardly be clearer. The suit was brought by a rightwing legal group, the Center for Individual Rights, that gets its funding from the Koch Brothers, with Bruce Rauner filing an amicus brief echoing the Center’s arguments.

While purporting to be about freedom of speech for public employees, this case (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association) is at its root an attempt to bankrupt labor unions—requiring them to provide all aspects of union representation (contract negotiations, grievance procedure, legal advocacy, etc.) to all employees in a union workplace, while allowing any employee who so chooses to refrain from paying even a penny toward the cost of that representation.

Fair Share fees were ruled constitutional by a 9-0 vote of the US Supreme Court in 1977. But with a majority on the current Supreme Court now firmly allied with the corporate elite, it is all too possible that decades-old decision will be overturned—and the collection of fair share fees will become unconstitutional.

If that happens, you can be certain that the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI), a watercarrier for the Rauner/Koch crowd, will go into high gear. IPI gets funding from both Rauner and Koch-backed organizations. It’s been leading the fight to abolish public-employee pensions, expand privatization of public services, and cut state employee salaries.

So if you work anywhere in the public sector, you can be very sure that this right-wing empty-thought tank is not on your side. But you can also be sure that they will be trying to sell themselves as your new best friend—pressing you to quit the union and make your coworkers who are union members pay for you.

You can also expect to get that same kind of warm, fuzzy encouragement to quit from another faux friend, Governor Bruce Rauner—the same governor who is leading the charge to drive down the take-home pay of state workers, abolish the collective bargaining rights of local government employees, and privatize whatever and wherever he chooses.

Many in the media will echo their calls. When organized labor backed legislation that sought to prevent a strike in state government by providing for the intervention of an independent arbitrator, just about every newspaper in the state parroted Rauner’s talking points, which argued it would be better to let him force a strike. As if that weren’t enough of media subservience to the powers-that-be, the Illinois Policy Institute just bought up the Illinois Radio Network, one of the primary sources of news for local radio stations all across the state of Illinois.

So we have to begin now to prepare for the massive onslaught of misinformation that’s about to descend on all of us.

We have to be prepared to hold fast to the powerful force we’ve built up over decades that has significantly improved wage levels, ensured access to affordable health care for us and our families, successfully defended against all attempts to slash pension benefits, tackled countless managerial abuses at worksites all across Illinois, brought dignity and a measure of fairness to every represented employee, defended public services against privatization, and won legislative and political victories that have improved the lives of all citizens. That force is our union.

AFSCME has never quit in the fight for a better life for all—and that’s why it’s essential that none of us ever let ourselves be manipulated into quitting on our union.