Northwest labor press. (Portland , Ore.) 1987-current, June 15, 2018, Page 6, Image 6

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Janus is coming, ready or not
In Janus v AFSCME, the U.S.
Supreme Court appears poised to
rule that all public employee
union fees must be voluntary,
akin to ‘right-to-work.’ A decision
is expected any day. The Labor
Press talked with University of
Oregon labor educator Gordon
Lafer about what that means.
What do you think Janus’ impact will be on
unions? Even if there’s a 15 or 20 percent decline
in membership, that still has significant ramifica-
tions in budget and staffing. There’s no way it’s
not going to be significant — even in unions that
have done a good job of reaching out to explain
to people why it makes sense for them to become
members. Obviously that’s a different conversa-
tion when the difference between being a union
member or not goes from [a discount of] 10 per-
cent [of union dues] to 100 percent.
What’s the best reason public sector workers
would want to pay union dues when they no
longer have to? I think there’s a million reasons.
At the most minimal level, what you get in wages
and benefits is far more than you pay in dues. A
lot of that is established over years. At the end of
negotiations, management says, “Here’s our ‘best
and final’ offer.” But I think looking at the “first
and worst” offer is a guide to what would be hap-
pening if there was no union. Management tells
us when they make their initial proposals: “Here’s
what we want.” So we know if they didn’t have
to bargain at all, they would not only have lower
wages and benefits, but no seniority, and work re-
sponsibilities would be hugely increased. So I
think it’s money, but it’s also many other things:
A grievance process, a right to due process, some
agreement that your job description can’t just be
changed from day to day. In addition, public sec-
tor unions — in their political activity — are the
number one force that keeps public services de-
cently funded, to the extent that they are decently
funded. [Maintaining] funding for public services
is about keeping the jobs, but it’s also about doing
the job right. Most people want to be able to do
their job right, in every kind of job. The ability to
do your job right is to a large extent dependent on
overall funding, and then on things like staff levels
and work rules that unions negotiate. So I think
there are no end of reasons why it makes sense to
pay dues as a public sector employee. But you
don’t always get to have half hour conversations
with everybody. We’re going to need to have a lot
more members doing things that up until now
have been done by staff, including having these
Do you think there’s any possibility that some-
thing good could come of Janus? Obviously all
the corporate people aren’t putting money into this
because they think it’s going to make the labor
movement stronger, so I don’t want to be Pollyan-
nah-ish about it, but to the extent that unions move
toward bargaining for the common good and en-
gaging members to take over the work of the
union — those are directions a lot of people in the
labor movement have been wanting to move in
anyway, as best practices of good unions. So to
the extent that Janus is a spur to go in that direc-
tion, I do think that there are unions that could
emerge stronger.
Read the full interview at
Who’s on our side?
By Tom Chamberlain Oregon AFL-CIO President
A union is still the
best option for workers
The war on the American worker appears to escalate every day.
The U.S. Supreme Court will deliver a decision on Janus v. AF-
SCME that many believe will upend almost five decades of
precedent and eliminate fair share fees for all public-sector
workers. Federal workers who already operate in a right-to-
work environment are being weakened further by recent pres-
idential executive orders.
A Trump Executive Order eliminates official time, which al-
lows union officers to represent all the members of the bargain-
ing unit, union members and non, in grievances and matters of
broad interest to the workforce, including labor management,
safety, and productivity meetings.
Trump’s attacks go farther than any president in modern his-
tory in undermining federal workers by proposing a wage
freeze and reducing federal retirement benefits by $143.5 bil-
lion over 10 years. Trump has instructed agency officials to pre-
pare contract renegotiation recommendations that are “not sub-
ject to disclosure” to union representatives. These recom-
mendations encourage managers to hasten dismissals of em-
ployees instead of suspending them while discouraging pro-
gressive discipline.
Trump’s animus towards workers and the unions that repre-
sent them reflects his corporate background, prioritizing wealth
at the expense of workers. Those priorities are reflected in soar-
ing CEO pay and three decades of stagnant wages for workers.
While the attacks on workers intensify, many Americans are
trying to readjust the direction of our nation. Though mis-
guided, the election of Donald Trump was driven by voters who
were fed up with a favored status of corporations, anti-worker
trade agreements, stagnant wages, and shrinking benefits.
Americans do not trust the president, our government, or
corporations, and they have had their fill of promises during
elections which are only to be forgotten on Election Day. More
and more Americans are looking to the union movement as a
vehicle for change.
Over 60 percent of Americans support unions, the highest
rating in two decades. That number is even higher among mil-
lennials. Last year, for the first time this century, union mem-
bership grew by 262,000, with over half of those millennials.
We are seeing an uptick in union organizing in Oregon: Pre-
cision Castparts workers, Burgerville workers, and Oregon
State University faculty are seeing the value and potential for
bettering their lives through a union.
And once again, workers are using the strike to achieve bet-
ter wages and working conditions. Teachers across the country
have taken to the streets to improve their living standards and
increase education funding.
It should not be lost that until 1935, workers did not have a
legal right to join a union — let alone bargain a contract. With-
out any rights or protections, working women and men formed
unions and created power and improved living standards for all
The future of our movement is not dependent on the whim
of the president or a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. We
are a nation of workers who want a secure future for ourselves
and children. As long as workers dream of a better life, they
will see our movement as their best option. Yes, we are living
through some very difficult times, but for our movement to sur-
vive and thrive we must not be discouraged and we must find
the strength and determination to forge a 21st Century workers’
movement that builds power and reflects the broad diversity of
the American worker.
The Oregon AFL-CIO is a 138,000-member-strong federation of labor unions.