On this Labor Day in 2018, it is especially important to consider where we are and where we could go as a country when it comes to fairness in the workplace and in the country generally. We are currently witnessing an escalating assault on employee rights by corporation-funded groups that have been bolstered by recent United States Supreme Court opinions. Justice Samuel Alito has been particularly vocal in this regard, authoring a trilogy of opinions that make it more difficult for Unions to have the resources necessary to fulfill their duty to represent employees fairly and effectively and otherwise to be a champion for democracy in the workplace and in the nation overall. Those 3 cases are Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, 138 S.Ct. 2448 (2018), Harris v. Quinn, 134 S.Ct. 2618 (2014), and Knox v. SEIU, Local 1000, 567 U.S. 298 (2012).
Unions have been a major target of the intensifying attack on employee rights because Unions play a vital role in developing and expanding employee power through collective action. As the recent Supreme Court opinion in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis demonstrates, the Supreme Court is increasingly restricting employees’ ability to seek better employment terms and conditions together. In this context, anti-democratic activists are now pursuing cases that allege Unions – by merely representing employees in the workplace – somehow violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution even though Congress has long recognized that Unions enhance rather than impede the exercise of First Amendment rights. The allegation of unconstitutionality now being made against Unions is, in a word, Orwellian.
The corporation-funded effort to limit employees’ voices in the workplace is also occurring in State legislatures where so-called right to work laws have been pushed with the help of secretive organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”). In truth, “right to work” laws continue to mean the right to work for less safety, less employment opportunity, and less workplace democracy.
Fortunately, people across the nation are rejecting the anti-democratic strategy being pursued by ALEC and similar extremist groups. In the bellwether State of Missouri, for example, the people recently and overwhelmingly voted to overturn a “right to work” law that had just been passed and signed by the Republican-controlled legislature and Republican governor, respectively. Indeed, a recent Gallup poll confirms that more than 60% of employees want to be represented by a Union. That less than 10% of employees are currently represented by a Union highlights the democracy gap afflicting workplaces because of the assault on employee rights in the courts, in legislatures, and elsewhere. If Missouri is any indication, however, the future looks much brighter for Unions and, consequently, for employees in general.