‘Stick to the union’
In January 2016, it seemed certain that a conservative majority in the Supreme Court would rule in favor of anti-union plaintiffs in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association to invalidate the right of unions to collect agency shop fees from nonmember workers who receive benefits of union representation in their bargaining unit. Anti-union groups argue that disallowing nonmembers to withhold agency fees from public-sector unions is a violation of their First Amendment rights.
But the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February of last year left the court deadlocked on the case, upholding a lower court’s decision that public-sector unions had a constitutional right to collect “fair share” payments. But now that President Donald Trump has nominated conservative circuit judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, unions are bracing for another case that could deplete their finances and their ability to serve members.
The PSC, like many unions, realizes that the time frame to protect itself is short – anti-union outfits have filed several dozen cases like Friedrichs in the federal courts. Some observers say that once Gorsuch is confirmed, a new case on agency shop fees could be heard and decided within a year. That’s why the PSC is planning now to organize members to fight harder and recommit to the union.
Labor will have to play a vital role in fighting all aspects of the Trump agenda, as PSC President Barbara Bowen says here:
Dear PSC Members,
In the first 30 days of President Donald Trump’s administration, we have seen the selection of a secretary of education who knows nothing about public schools; an executive order against immigration that led to the detention of several CUNY students and one PSC member; the resignation of the national security adviser; and scores of reckless actions on domestic and foreign policy. This is not a moment that can be normalized.
The PSC includes members with a wide range of political views, but I believe we will all agree that the agenda being advanced by President Trump and his supporters is dangerous for us, our students, our future and our planet. Unions could play a defining role in the current political moment.
Here is an update on how the PSC leadership has begun organizing in resistance to the Trump agenda and what each of us can do. We are lucky to be organized and to have a union – it’s up to us to use it.
1. We can prevent the destruction of our union and preserve the PSC’s progressive economic and political power.
The single most important thing we can do right now as PSC members is recommit ourselves to sticking to the union. Anti-union activists celebrated Trump’s nomination of a new Supreme Court justice, confident that a conservative court would now rule in their favor in Janus v. AFSCME, a case designed to strip unions of their members, their treasuries and their power. If Janus v. AFSCME is successful, unions like ours could be forced to represent and negotiate contracts for “free riders” – people who receive all the union’s benefits, salary increases and protections, but who expect others to pay for them.
Why is this case so high on the agenda of Trump’s supporters? Because it could decimate the funding of public sector unions, and with that our ability to wage contract campaigns, challenge employers, and protect our members. The historic gains in working-class and middle-class salaries won by unions could be unraveled; the progressive voting base of unions could be destroyed; the force of organized labor could receive a deathblow. Organized labor, for all its inadequacies, remains the biggest organized political force in the country for working people. Trump and his far-right supporters want it on its knees.
How do we fight back? We may not be able to stop an anti-union Supreme Court decision, but we can make sure that our own union remains strong, maybe even stronger than before.
Starting now, the PSC is launching a #StickingtotheUnion campaign, asking every member to make a public commitment – a full year before the expected decision – to continue paying dues and maintaining the power of the union. We will need the economic power of the union more than ever as the fight for public funds and health care intensifies. We will need the political power of the union as public higher education, immigration laws and free speech come under attack.
Take the first step right now: sign up on our website to pledge your own recommitment to paying full dues and your willingness talk to three other members about doing the same. Our goal is to prevent the loss of a single member. I believe that we can do it.
2. We can become rapid responders and sign up to receive email alerts from the union about resistance to immigration raids, emergency demonstrations and other actions.
More than 1,000 PSC members responded to our call to join the Women’s March on January 21, and hundreds more have signed petitions, called Congress and turned out for demonstrations against the immigration ban. Something is changing both locally and nationally; sign up with the union to receive rapid response alerts.
3. We can intensify the pressure on CUNY to create safe spaces for all students, faculty and staff, and we can participate in bystander or “upstander” training to prevent racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic or other assaults – which have increased dramatically since the Trump election.
Read the PSC’s call for CUNY to become a sanctuary university and get involved in sanctuary campaigns on your campus.
4. We can raise our commitment to be active in the PSC campaigns for increased CUNY funding and a fair contract. Repeal of the Affordable Care Act would blow an enormous hole in the state budget, leading to billions of dollars in reductions. CUNY funding would almost certainly suffer.
This year may be our best chance to win new funding – before any cuts are made and while the governor has focused his attention on the Excelsior Scholarship proposal. Join us throughout the spring as we press the city for funding to allow us more time with students, and be ready to join the campaign for the next contract as it develops in coming months.
5. We can be part of national and international labor mobilizations.
On May 1, the PSC will call for other universities and unions to join us for a dedicated day of protest, teach-ins and other actions.
We have an amazing union membership; we cannot fail to act. Details on several of the initiatives will follow during the next few weeks, but we can all take one action now: pledge to be part of our #StickingtotheUnion campaign. In this fight, every member counts.