Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court attacked working people with a decision that could keep workers from joining together in class action suits in cases of wage theft, discrimination or any other kind of wrongdoing committed by an employer.
Now, public-sector union workers wait to see what the Court’s decision will be in Janus v AFSCME, a so-called “right to work” case. The ruling could impact nearly 17 million public-sector workers — blue-collar school employees, teachers, postal carriers, police officers, firefighters and others.
The Janus v AFSME case is backed by corporations and wealthy special interest that have a goal of hurting unions and keeping working people from organizing for better wages and having a voice on the job.
Union members are the foundation of our communities. These are the hardworking men and women that support our area businesses and churches. There was no mistaking that when I graduated from the Philadelphia public schools, I wanted to get a union job. My grandmother, mother, uncle and aunt all belonged to unions.
I’m fortunate that I got a good union job not long after graduating from high school. I started my career with the school district as a general cleaner. I was proud to have a job that paid a living wage, benefits and allowed me to save for my retirement. Over the years, I’ve gotten promotions and I’m now a building engineer. Because of my union’s training fund, I have had the opportunity to take free classes to learn trades like plumbing and electrical.
For my family, and many African American families in Philadelphia, good union jobs are the pathway to the middle class. Research shows this case will hurt many families; but Black women will be hurt the most. As a father of a daughter who graduates high school this month, I’m deeply concerned. Black women face double discrimination — gender and wage disparity. They face hardships for their gender and then earn only 65 cents to every Caucasian man’s dollar. Unions help to close that pay gap and level the playing field. Strong union contracts make sure all workers are paid the same as their co-workers who perform the same job. In the “Year of the Woman,” hurting unions would set women back.
The implications of a negative decision will not only hurt Black women, it will impact each of us. In states that already have right to work laws like Wisconsin, workers earn $6,000 less a year, infant mortality rates are higher, poverty rates are higher, and there is less investment in children’s education. As a father and a public school employee, I know first-hand we need more and not less investment for our schools.
While the attacks on working people continue, there is hope. People are waking up and fighting back like never before. The momentum of working people speaking up and uniting is catching like wildfire. Last month we saw how voters in Georgia cast their ballots to elect Stacey Adams who could be the first African-American female governor in the nation. Teachers in North Carolina, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky are striking to demand better conditions for themselves and their students. Workers nationwide are fighting for a living wage and a union – and winning. Philadelphia airport workers won a living wage victory and are on their way to their first-ever union contract. New York and New Jersey airport workers just won a historic wage raise to $19 an hour. And over the last decade, thousands of security officers in Philadelphia turned low-wage jobs into good jobs by fighting for a union.
We stand on the shoulders of union workers who fought before us. We owe it to them to continue that fight. We won’t turn back. The Court will not determine our fate. Unions are here to stay. We will stand strong today and in the days to come.