PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI)—The Supreme Court’s June 2018 Janus vs. AFSCME ruling against public sector unions, has, in union membership terms, turned out to be a dud so far. At least that’s what top leaders of the nation’s four biggest public-sector unions say. But it's only been eight months since the decision was handed down.And their added big message is that “unions are vehicles for workers’ voices, not the voices themselves” as Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten put it.
Presidents Weingarten, Lee Saunders of AFSCME and Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees, and Vice President Becky Pringle of the National Education Association discussed how to bring that message to workers in an impromptu press conference with the small group of reporters covering the Future of Unions conference, earlier in February.Overhanging the sessions was that 33.9 percent of public-sector workers – Teachers, Fire Fighters, nurses, EMTs
So the radical right, Republicans and big business foes of workers and unions, having trashed private sector unions, trained their sights on the public sector. Their aim, as one top right-wing honcho admitted in 2017, was to kill unions by taking their money away. “Defund the left,” he called it.Their vehicle was the Janus vs AFSCME District Council 31 lawsuit, a trumped-up case the U.S. Supreme Court decided last year. And the tribunal’s five-man Republican-named majority, voting on ideological lines, reversed a 1975 precedent. The justices ruled every state and local public-sector worker in the U.S. – all 6.2 million of them – would be a potential “free rider,” able to use unions’ services without paying one red cent for them, contract or no contract. But the big public worker unions, and others with public worker
Not only that, but teachers
SEIU stepped up
SEIU also looks to wider community issues to fuel its organizing efforts. Henry mentioned, as an example, campaigning for enforceable paid sick and family leave as a way to get more people, in and out of the union, into organizing and being organized.“We have a holistic view” of who needs unionization, Weingarten elaborated. Her union views the independent contractors, including teachers in so-called charter schools, as “contingent workers,” and thus organizable. By law, independent contractors are not.
Saunders said his union started its one-on-one communications with its 1.2 million members two years before the Janus ruling, asking each what they wanted from their union and urging them to get involved. It reached an overwhelming majority and also literally re-signed all those it talked with to union membership cards.
And it didn’t stop there. AFSCME went after new units. “By the end of February, we’ll have collective bargaining rights for all state workers in Nevada,” he predicted. “We’re also looking at specific targets in hospitals and health care.”
Pringle said NEA is working with scholars on how “to understand the uprisings” of the teachers, which started from the bottom up. Union leaders scrambled to catch up.“It’s definitely different from (traditional) organizing,” especially because the teacher uprisings and forced strikes occurred in 'right to work' states, except for Los Angeles, she admitted. Some even legally bar public workers from striking.
NEA, the nation’s largest union, also must figure out how to “harness the collective power of the millennials.” The key, she said, will be “not by telling them” what to do and what issues to concentrate on “but by honoring and respecting their different vision.”It worked in West Virginia, she said. NEA, the dominant teachers’ union in the right-to-work Mountaineer State, picked up 1,200 members since the forced strike last year. “It’s a ‘yes, and’” approach of “how we can bring the deal home,” Pringle said. Adjusting to Janus took “disruptive innovation and it’s scary. But it’s also a huge opportunity – and we’re not done.”