Executive Director Reports

Unions are about freedom and fairness

 Roberta Lynch

Roberta Lynch

Janus v. AFSCME is the latest plot to rig our economy against us

When working people have the freedom to speak up together through unions, we make progress together that benefits everyone. So today—with a shrinking middle class and a growing gap between the rich and the rest of us—the last thing America needs is an assault on the freedom to form strong unions and speak up for ourselves and our communities. Unfortunately, attacking the freedom of working people to come together is exactly what the Janus v. AFSCME lawsuit is all about.

Although fronted by a lone state employee, the case is bankrolled by the National Right to Work Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center—the litigation wing of the Illinois Policy Institute—part of a network funded by billionaires and corporate CEOs who use their massive fortunes to tilt the playing field in their favor.

They’re out to eliminate unions from the American economic and political landscape because they want to be able to call all the shots. They don’t want working people to have the ability to influence the decisions that affect our lives.

Now these forces have taken their anti-union crusade to the highest court in the land. In January the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear the Janus case that’s intended to strip average Americans of our freedom to come together to achieve things our families need, like a decent wage, retirement security, and affordable health care.

Under current law, every union-represented employee may choose whether or not to join the union—but the union is required to represent all workers whether they join or not. Since all workers benefit from the union’s gains—better wages, affordable health care, job safety measures, protection against unfair firing, and a wide range of other rights and benefits—it’s only fair that everyone chip in toward the cost.

Forty years ago a unanimous Supreme Court approved this kind of fair cost-sharing arrangement. But today’s court—with its pro-corporate majority—is expected to turn that ruling on its head.

This case is an effort by powerful corporate interests to outlaw fair share fees, encouraging workers to contribute nothing toward the cost of union representation. It actually began as a political scheme by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who shortly after taking office issued an executive order and filed a lawsuit trying to ban fair share.

As a candidate, Rauner vowed to take down public employee unions. He clearly saw abolishing fair share fees as a way to drain unions of the resources needed to effectively represent members’ interests.

In a recent interview with the right-wing Hoover Institution, Governor Rauner dropped the ruse that his assault on unions is about economic policy, saying it has “nothing to do with any of the budget.”

Instead, he said, it’s about “chang[ing] the culture and the power structure in Illinois.” That means tipping the scales of our economy and our democracy even further against regular people, while amassing more wealth and power for billionaire CEOs like him.

Union members know we only make progress when we come together, not just for ourselves but to improve the lives of all. We understand that real freedom is about more than making a living; it’s also about being able to have time to spend with our families, to care for a sick child, to volunteer in our church or our community.

The wealthy corporate special interests behind this case want to undermine that freedom. They want to take away the power in numbers that working people need to win better lives for ourselves, our families and our communities.

We know it’s all too likely that this Supreme Court, like so much of the power structure in our country, is now tilted against us. But no matter how much money the billionaires throw at us, no matter how craven and vicious their attacks, we’re not quitters.

We know if we want keep our union strong, we have to stand together. So AFSCME members all across this state are starting right now to recommit to our union through the AFSCME Strong program.

We’re signing membership cards again—no matter how long we’ve been union members—to make clear that we won’t let anyone take our union away from us.

We won’t quit on each other. And we won’t quit on the fight for a better life for all.

When that court ruling on Janus comes next spring, we’ll be ready—more united and stronger than ever.