Freedom to Join Unions Can Fix the Rigged Economy

AFSCME Council 5 executive director Eliot Seide
AFSCME Council 5 executive director Eliot Seide

Minnesotans are working longer hours for less money and fewer benefits, despite being more productive. No matter how hard we work, many of us are struggling to get by and provide for our families. Meanwhile, a handful of CEOs and those who are already rich have seen their salaries and wealth skyrocket.

This is not by accident.

Big corporations and the wealthy – along with politicians who do their bidding – have rigged our economy and our political system against working people.

We need to confront this rigged system head on. We need to redefine what it means to work in Minnesota. Call it a Bill of Rights for Working People.

If you work full-time, you should earn enough to support your family and never go to bed hungry. You should earn decent benefits, including health insurance and retirement security you can count on.

You have a right to a safe workplace. If you get hurt on the job, or become disabled or unemployed, you should be able to keep food on the table.

You should be able to take care of those you love, which means having sick leave, parental leave, affordable child care, and a predictable schedule to give your family some stability.

You should have a path to the education and training you need to grow your skills and earn raises and promotions as the labor market evolves.

Most importantly, you should have the freedom to decide if you want to unite with others to secure good pay, better benefits, a safe workplace, work-family balance and skills training.  

The Labor Movement believes all working people deserve the same freedom corporate CEOs have: the freedom to negotiate a fair return on our work so we can provide for our families. 

It will take a lot to fix the rigged economy. We can start by protecting and strengthening the freedom of workers to join together in strong unions. When workers have the opportunity to speak up together through their unions, we make progress that benefits everyone. 

Despite so-called “right-to-work” attacks and other political scams, people in unions continue to win rights, benefits and protections for all workers. Here in Minnesota, unions used our collective voice to win increases to the minimum wage, affordable health care, earned sick leave and vital public services. 

This is why working people are calling on elected leaders and candidates to publicly support our freedom to join together in unions and make our communities better. Students are smarter, families are healthier and neighborhoods are safer in states where working people have a voice in the halls of power. 

Unions like mine fight for freedom for everyone, and that’s why we are the target of the CEOs who have used their wealth and power to rig our country’s economic rules against working people. This week they convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a case, Janus v. AFSCME, to strike down the freedom of working people to join together in strong unions, threatening to rig the economy even further.

If corporations and politicians wipe out our freedom to form unions, nothing will stop them from driving down wages, killing jobs, defunding our public services, silencing working people at the ballot box, and crippling the fundamental values we celebrate today.

Labor unions are critical to America’s success. Union members know that freedom is not given, it’s fought for, and it must be protected.  We’re going to keep fighting to protect our freedom and fix this rigged system once and for all.

Eliot Seide is executive director of AFSCME Council 5, a union of 43,000 Minnesota workers.