Reports of Our Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

In this country, the last line of defense in protecting workers’ rights is public sector labor unions. Private sector unions have effectively been neutered by the insanely rich. In addition to our rights also rests the “golden egg”- our pensions. Trillions of dollars are currently beyond the reach of Wall Street money managers salivating to tap our investments and reap huge profits. 

Only organized labor stands in their way. 

As part of their quest, there has been a series of systematic attacks aimed to render us ineffective. If we cannot collect dues to engage in politics and lobby for better wages, hours and working conditions, we cease to exist. 

Two recent legal assaults on unions have unmasked this strategy of national “right to work” groups. 

Last year, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association attempted to end agency shop fees, sometimes referred to as “fair-share fees.” The U.S. Supreme Court heard the case, but ended in a 4-4 tie when Justice Scalia died before the decision was rendered. Now, a case in Illinois is moving towards the Supreme Court. In Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSME), the arguments are essentially the same as Friedrichs; a governmental employee should not have to pay any “fair share fee.” The fee, they argue, is a violation of the plaintiff’s First Amendment rights. 

I will not plead the case here, but I want you to clearly understand the motivation behind the attack. Our public sector unions act as a balance in the collective bargaining process. Without our ability to level the playing field, bargaining for a contract would become begging; an employee’s due process rights would vanish, and concern for a worker’s safety would be a chapter in a history book. 

Those who hold us in contempt are banking on our extinction. Their game plan is simple- if they make it harder to collect dues, our membership will erode. The rich will take over the electoral process with no fight from thousands of working people who must pool their meager Political Action Committee dues to come close to what one billionaire can contribute with the stroke of a pen. And, we might not even know who that billionaire is until well after the election is over. It’s a very comforting thought. 

As firefighters, we hold a distinct advantage in holding the line. We live and work together. We depend on each other every shift. Teamwork is imperative. We have a keen sense of fairness and contributing to the common good. Most of us find it unconscionable that another would not pay his or her fair share. 

The California Government Code provides provisions to institute agency shop in a bargaining unit. In my local union, we never contemplated it, as we were 100 percent union membership. There are a few locals within the CPF who collect an agency shop fee from those who elect to not join the union. I pray that regardless of what happens in the Supreme Court, our ranks stay strong. Those who don’t belong to the union still feel an obligation to contribute to the organization who negotiates their salary and benefits, along with a state organization that has protected their lives through countless legislative victories. 

I firmly believe that reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated. 

Stay Strong and Stay Safe!