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Supreme Court should protect Labor Unions

Public employees are the people who make our communities work. They’re firefighters who rush in to burning buildings to save our loved ones. They’re snowplow drivers who make it possible for Minnesotans to make it to work in the middle of February. They’re teachers who stay late after school to help a child finally grasp that math problem. They’re union members who depend on the support of their fellow workers to do their jobs, and to bargain collectively for fair wages and benefits and safe working conditions.

When public employees join a union they don’t do it simply to protect their own wages and working conditions — they do it to protect the communities in which they serve. They bargain for sufficient staffing to care for patients, for the equipment to cut victims out of a car in an accident, and for smaller class sizes to give students the attention they need to succeed.

For over 40 years, the courts have recognized that providing the structure that allows labor unions to bargain effectively on behalf of public employees serves the interest of both workers and the public. Last week, however, the U.S. Supreme Court made the decision to take up the case of Janus v. AFSCME. This case threatens the very survival of the labor movement in this country. It would allow workers who are represented by a union to decline to pay their fair share of dues for the collective bargaining services their union provides. This means that unions would be drained of the resources they need to effectively represent their members and to bargain on their behalf.

The people behind the Janus case are not motivated by concern for worker’s rights. The National Right to Work Committee and their anti-union allies are backing this case as part of their ongoing campaign to weaken and ultimately destroy unions. They know that unions make it possible for working people to join together and build the power they need to level the economic and political playing field. Unions bravely fight for the rights of working people well beyond their own membership. They fight to raise the minimum wage for workers who are not in a union, they fight for the rights of immigrants, they fight for civil rights for all Americans, and they fight to elect leaders who they know will represent them fairly and champion the rights of working people in this country.

By eliminating the rights of unions to fair compensation for the representation they provide, a decision in favor of Janus would cripple a strong labor movement, one of the last remaining checks on the concentrated power and wealth that is threatening the fundamental democratic and egalitarian values on which this country was founded and by which it prospered. Such a decision threatens the very principles of autonomy and personal freedom that the Janus petitioners claim to defend. This case is a clear attempt to manipulate the court to rig the economic and political playing field against working people. It is an effort to further limit the basic rights of the people public employees serve — students, the sick, the elderly, persons with disabilities and ultimately all citizens. The court was correct 40 years ago when it addressed this issue and it should respect that long-standing precedent and continue to protect the rights of working people.