Janus v. AFSCME decision holds the rights of working people in the balance

Today, the US Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments to decide a landmark case that will have a profound effect on unions and the working families they represent across the country, Janus v. AFSCME.

The question is simple — should unions be able to collect fair share fees from all public sector employees who benefit from their collective bargaining efforts regardless of their membership in the union? It’s a question that the Supreme Court answered in 1977 and a system it’s upheld since.

But we know that the conservative Court, with Neil Gorsuch sitting in a stolen seat, isn’t inclined to side with the rights of public unions or their members.

This case was brought with the backing of a number of deep-pocketed, conservative, anti-union organizations. If the court decides against AFSCME, the resources that public sector unions rely on to manage their day-to-day operations will likely dry up. It’s a cynical effort to cripple any power or influence that public sector unions have to advocate for teachers, firefighters, police officers, healthcare providers and more.

Matt Ford wrote in The Atlantic that the Court ruling against the union, “could effectively act as a nationwide right-to-work law for the country’s public-sector workers, with potentially crushing implications for the funding and resources of the unions that represent them.”

But these anti-union forces don’t care — or more likely feel is an added bonus — that their political victory would have a profound effect on the 17 million members that these unions represent. So many of these members are working families, struggling to make ends meet and striving to do better.

Yet again, our most vulnerable minority communities are going to be the hardest hit. Black women, who make up 17.7 percent of public sector employees, the most of any demographic, would be the most profoundly affected by an anti-union ruling, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

We can’t forget that crushing implications for unions actually means crushing implications for the people who rely on them.

A good union job can transform a life. I’ve seen it in my own family. Both of my grandparents were public sector union members, my granddad a parole officer and my grandma a social worker for the state of Maryland. Having two union members in the household allowed them to move out of the McCulloh Homes housing project and into a better neighborhood. It allowed my mom to go to college and become a teacher. And when the time came, they helped put me through college, as well.

It’s nothing new that conservative forces target hard-working people’s rights to come together a fight for better working conditions, fairer pay, and more generous benefits. But we can’t let their deep-pockets and cynical abuse of the courts prevent us from fighting for workers’ rights to unionize.

I’m proud to be backed by a number of unions and their members. I’ve stood with unions for decades. I’ve been a union member myself. And my support for them and their rights to organize will carry on when I’m governor.