Today the US Supreme Court will take up a case that may pose the biggest test to the labor movement that we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Janus v. AFSCME, which takes direct aim at the heart of public-sector unions, could make it much harder for working people to organize for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.
That’s not just bad news for unions. It’s bad news for all of us. Labor unions are the best tool we have to combat income inequality, a rigged economy, and systemic mistreatment of women and people of color in the workplace. Labor unions created the American middle class. Turned dangerous jobs into safer ones. Gave workers a voice against abuses. And, yes, created the weekend.
So there’s a lot at stake. That’s why, in cities throughout the country, we aren’t just waiting around. In the face of the Janus case, local elected officials across the country are renewing our efforts to help workers organize—in traditional ways, and in new ones.
Consider the case of airport workers. As these workers have organized for union recognition with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), pressing their case from Austin to Milwaukee to Washington, DC, local elected officials have stood with them. In cities where officials control airport ground leases, as in Philadelphia, they have used their leverage to push for recognition. In other cases, they have taken part in days of protest and civil disobedience, met with airport authority leadership, or called on airline executives to get involved. The result: Tens of thousands of subcontract workers have better jobs.
Meanwhile, as cable-TV giants have worked to undermine their employees’ bargaining position, we’ve held public hearings to examine whether those practices violated the companies’ franchise agreements. After a three-year struggle at Cablevision in New York City, workers organizing with the Communications Workers of America finally defeated union-busting CEO James Dolan in 2015 (Dolan also owns Madison Square Garden and the Knicks) and won a new contract. Similar hearings helped build pressure during the six-and-a-half-week Verizon strike of 2016. Now, New York City Council members are supporting the Charter/Spectrum workers organizing with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, on strike for nearly a year.
And in California and New York City, when legislators learned about pervasive wage theft and toxic working conditions facing overwhelmingly immigrant car-wash workers, we joined the fight. As workers organized with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (in New York City) and United Steelworkers (in Los Angeles), City Council members joined labor, faith, and community leaders to organize food drives for striking workers and took part in civil disobedience to help these carwasheros fight wage theft and win labor contracts. We also passed innovative new legislation requiring car-wash owners to maintain licenses to operate, as well as bonds against wage theft and environmental abuses to make sure the rules are followed.