On June 27, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Janus vs. AFSCME case which effectively imposed right to work on public sector employees in all 50 states.
The decision overturns 40 years of legal precedent based on a case that began right here in Michigan with Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education. In that case, the court determined that while public sector employees could not be forced to contribute to the political activities of unions, they did have to pay for the costs associated with collective bargaining, contract administration and the grievance process. Essentially, the 1977 court said that because non-union workers still benefit from the efforts of the union in their work places, they must pay their fair share for those benefits. The Janus decision undoes all that, allowing non-union employees to continue to benefit without having to pay their fair share.
This decision was certainly disappointing, but it was not unexpected. What was surprising were the almost immediate reports from the media claiming that this ruling was the beginning of the end for unions in America.
But the truth is, we have seen these setbacks before. After Gov. Rick Snyder signed the right-to-work bill into law, many predicted the beginning of the end of the labor movement that put America on wheels and built this country’s middle class. Instead what we have seen in Michigan is an added 52,000 new union members in 2017. That is the biggest annual jump in union membership in Michigan in over a decade. And it means there are now more union members in Michigan than there were in 2012 when Snyder signed right-to-work legislation into law.
These events are not just limited to Michigan. Indeed, we have seen strikes and collective actions take place across the country, including in conservative, right-to-work states like West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona. These collective actions have resulted in positive gains for working people, including public sector educators. Additionally, public support for unions has reached a 14-year high at 61 percent.
Working people see this court case for what it truly is, the latest effort of wealthy corporate interests to undermine our freedoms in the workplace. Workers are recommitting to unions and launching their own organizing drive because they see an economy that has been manipulated by corporate lobbyists to benefit CEOs and the wealthiest 1 percent. Working women and men are exercising their freedoms to join together and negotiate for a fair return on their work and wages that can sustain their families. The people know that standing together in union is how we take back our freedom to prosper.
Many echoed this sentiment on the day the decision came down: we have never let a politician or court case determine our future, and we are not about to start now. The labor movement remains a strong and vibrant force. We will continue to fight for working people’s freedoms to stand together in union, to earn wages to sustain their families and to get a fair return on their work. There is power in numbers and the Michigan AFL-CIO represents more than a million people across our state. When we stand together and make our voices heard, we can protect the things our families need to build better Michigan for everyone.
Ron Bieber is president of Michigan AFL-CIO.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.