THE BLOG

Why the Anti-Union Argument Loses Every Time

07/30/2014 02:20 pm ET | Updated Sep 29, 2014
  • Lee A. Saunders President, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO

Opponents of labor unions were rubbing their hands gleefully earlier this summer when Justice Samuel Alito and his band of right-wing brothers ruled that home care workers in Illinois didn't have to pay "fair share" fees to support a union's work on their behalf.

In Harris v. Quinn, the Supreme Court made it more difficult for employees who work outside a traditional workplace to raise their voices collectively on economic issues that concern them all. They pointed to pending court cases that could eventually expand the ruling to undermine collective bargaining for all public employees, and not just those who work in private homes.

But we at AFSCME are not hanging our heads. Instead, energized members are helping us grow in the face of the raging anti-union storm.

In fact, while the court was deliberating on this case, we gained 92,155 new members -- including 20,000 home care workers. Despite the hurdles thrown up by the opponents of organized labor, these employees have declared that they want a union.

And why not? If you are a home care worker, if you are a child care provider, your job is every bit as vital -- and your voice just as important -- as that of the bridge inspectors who ensure safe travel, the corrections officers and police officers who protect communities, the nurses, EMTs and patient-care workers who heal us.

Public service workers fill so many important roles in our society, providing services that are essential to our communities. For home care and child care providers, the roles will be doubly important in the future as we seek to provide the best care for our most vulnerable populations. Our members understand that we are a powerful force for change when we raise our voice together, as one union family, regardless of workplace. That's how we ensure a better future for all.

And that's why our members have enthusiastically taken up the challenge to become Volunteer Member Organizers, to talk with their fellow employees about the importance of signing that union card and becoming full-fledged members. The more members who fully engage in our union, the more powerful we will be in bringing positive change to the workplace, to our communities, to our nation.

For us, the idea that we are all in this together is a point of American pride. But the perspective of too many folks at the top of the economic heap is this -- "I got mine, and I'm coming after yours, too."

That is the underlying ethic of the National Right to Work Committee, which brought the Harris v. Quinn suit on behalf of six Illinois home care workers who apparently didn't need the extra income and benefits that their union -- the Service Employees International Union -- had won for them. Corporate money, including large sums from the infamous Koch brothers, has propped up this organization for years as it has waged state-by-state campaigns against unions, and now is trying to force its anti-democratic philosophy through the courts.

It is this ugly rugged individualism that underlies the political ideology of the Koch brothers and other rich industrialists who are spending billions in an effort to shred Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and who are attempting to stop the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Unions are an impediment to their grand scheme, so they're coming after us with a vengeance.

But their side is missing the American people, those who work for a living. Public and private employees in this nation want and need a voice on the job, the power to bargain collectively to improve their lot -- no matter what their workplace.

Our union is a testament to the power of collective action. Our strength bubbles up from the grassroots. No amount of money or tortured judicial logic will tamp it down. The struggle continues.