In another sharply divided opinion, the United States Supreme Court again disregarded decades of settled law to undercut workplace rights. In Janus v. AFSCME, 5 Justices of the Supreme Court declared that employees in the public sector no longer need to pay anything for the array of advantages they receive when a union represents them. The positive impact of union representation has long included safer working conditions, fairer enforcement of work rules through the grievance process, better pay, and a more meaningful voice in the workplace as a whole. Importantly, unions have led the way in securing many protections and other rights for all employees, whether in a union or not, and for the general population as well. For example, unions played a pivotal role in the adoption of the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601, et seq., the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. §§ 10101, et seq., and the Occupational Safety & Health Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 651, et seq. Unions also have been central to combatting wage theft, retaliation, harassment, discrimination, and other civil rights violations. Indeed, unions have empowered especially women and people of color while expanding workplace rights.
By basically encouraging employees in the public sector to freeload – receiving something, in fact a lot, for nothing – 5 Justices are effectively promoting the defunding of unions that represent teachers, firefighters, nurses, and other vital employees who serve the public interest. To state the obvious, unions cannot represent employees well without adequate resources, nor can unions continue to be one of the only remaining institutions that stand up to corporate abuses. Not surprisingly, corporate-funded organizations like the National Right to Work Foundation backed the Janus litigation and appear to be plotting similar litigation in the private sector. In this context, it remains essential for people to come together through unions to ensure equal opportunity and fairness for everyone both inside and outside the workplace. After Janus, an old saying has suddenly become more relevant and poignant than ever: united we stand, divided we fall.