Letter: Unions important for many jobs

Published 8:38 pm Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Supreme Court is hearing a case this week that can have significant consequences for union workers nationwide. Mark Janus is a child support specialist that was dismayed to see a $50 fee come out of his check for union dues. His local AFSCME Council 31 had been collectively bargaining to secure his and others pensions from being dissolved. He decided that his $50 was going to a cause he didn’t believe in. At the time, Illinois, his home state, was in a budget crisis and in Mr. Janus’s opinion unable to afford pensions. He now argues that this fee he unwilling agreed to pay is a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.

If he wins his case, employees affected may have the option to opt out of a union and still work at a company whose employees benefit from said union. Unions use their dues to pay for things like lawyers and political engagement. Minnesota has taken steps recently to hurt unions by passing a “right to work” law. “Right to work” means if you don’t support unions or candidates who support unions, instead of paying full union dues you may pay a so-called “fair share” fee. This would include litigation fees but not political action. Since legislation is such a big part of how unions operate state to state, I think this is a misstep.

Lets take the case of Wisconsin. When Republican Scott Walker passed his 2011 labor law, Act 10, it did three things: make it impossible to collectively bargain for anything other than wages (no benefits), they now have to have a majority vote of every eligible employee before beginning the process of negotiation (an unnecessary and cumbersome burden), and prevents employees from having to pay union dues at all. This has decimated union numbers by about a third and crippled their ability to argue for a better standard of living. Minnesota is not immune to these attacks on blue collar workers.

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I find unions to be important locally in the form of teachers. They are not given fair pay and face many out-of-pocket expenses to be effective educators, and for steel workers like my dad, who have sacrificed their bodies to provide for their families while being short changed on quality health care. Or with my wife who, thank God, is a Teamster and was able to get six weeks paid time off to recover from a six-week early childbirth that nearly took her life.

Thomas Martinez