Supreme Court Case Could Harm All Workers

When people work hard and play by the rules, they should be able to get ahead and stay ahead. Success shouldn’t depend on being born into wealth or privilege. That’s the way it’s supposed to work in America and in the Northland. But that’s not the way it works anymore – especially for people who don’t belong to a strong union.

Today, most Americans are working harder than ever, yet they aren’t seeing the rewards of economic recovery. We have CEOs earning 300 times more than a typical worker and bankers paying a lower tax rate than a secretary.

It feels like the economic odds are stacked against working people. For proof, witness Wisconsin, where the billionaire Koch Brothers teamed up with Governor Scott Walker to bust unions and reshape the economy in their favor. They spent huge sums to ensure that workers earn lower pay, lose their retirement security, and see their full-time jobs replaced with part-time work. These wealthy extremists won’t be satisfied until they create a “right-to-work” nation where they can exploit workers to maximize corporate profits.

All working people should be concerned about a case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The lawsuit is bankrolled by the Center for Individual Rights, a front group for wealthy extremists. This time their hostility is aimed at public employees – teachers, nurses, firefighters, and other public workers who serve our communities.  The case will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 11 and the decision could have devastating consequences for working people nationwide.

By ruling against the labor laws that have protected workers in this country for decades, the high court could make it harder for ordinary people to stand up together for safe workplaces, improvements on the job, and wages that can sustain a family.  It could also make it harder for public workers to come together and speak up for better schools, safer patient care and stronger communities. All working families, union and nonunion, could feel the consequences.         

It’s also true that women and people of color have the most to lose from a bad decision in the Friedrichs case. They’re the same groups that benefit most from union membership. Women in the U.S. who work union earn $212 more per week than women in nonunion jobs, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.  Black women who belong to a union earn 34 percent more than their nonunion counterparts, and Latina women earn 46 percent more.

Hard work alone is no longer enough to secure a slice of the American dream. Workers of all races and genders are calling for a fair economy where the super-rich aren’t calling all the shots. Workers want a seat at the table, a voice on the job, and a fair shake in our economy. Millions of workers are still waiting for fair pay, predictable schedules, and the improved quality of life that come with union membership.    

Workers in the Northland are not going to be silenced by CEOs and wealthy extremists who want to run this country unchallenged. Just as our parents and grandparents fought for us through their unions, we intend to give future generations the opportunity to grow up in a country where work is rewarded, not exploited. 

Unions are still the answer.  We want the Supreme Court to know that our unions are a powerful force for upward mobility and economic security in America.

Judy Wahlberg lives in Mountain Iron and works for St. Louis County.  She is president of AFSCME Council 5, a union of 43,000 workers in Minnesota.