Union Busting Is a Threat to Our Democracy

Our union held a conference call with reporters July 12 to discuss the administration’s outrageous Executive Orders that seek to undermine America’s union and workforce.  

Union officials at the Social Security Administration and others are being stripped of access to vital tools that help us represent working people as we are required to do by law, including telephones, computers, Internet access, and even bulletin boards.  

Barri Sue Bryant, president of AFGE Local 2908 representing SSA employees in Philadelphia, told reporters that the Trump administration is making it nearly impossible to represent employees.  

“They told us yesterday that they won’t allow us to use leave without pay, or only in extremely limited conditions, to do representational duties,” she said.  

The executive orders have caused even more chaos at severely understaffed federal prisons, which have been struggling to respond to the influx of immigrant detainees.  

“Their attempts to silence us are creating nothing but chaos in the prison system,” said John Kostelnik, president of AFGE Local 3969 which represents Bureau of Prisons employees in Victorville, Calif.  

Undermining our democratic values  

The Trump administration has gone from being out of control to a serious threat to our democracy.  

While poll after poll has shown the American people overwhelmingly support labor unions, the weak Trump administration is being dictated by powerful special interests to do the dirty work for them. The Heritage Foundation, a fake think-tank funded by the likes of the Koch brothers, are openly pushing for policies that are bad for working people but good for businesses. A former Heritage employee now sits on Trump’s Domestic Policy Council and helps craft anti-worker policies like hiring freezes and retirement cuts.  

Our union exists to protect the merit systems, ensure justice, equality, and workers’ voice – all important factors for our government to serve and protect the American people. We make sure researchers, scientists, doctors, nurses, and other public servants have the tools and resources they need to do their jobs. But this administration is showing zero leadership in helping them do their jobs better.  

Red for Feds Day of Action 

Our union has filed lawsuits against the administration and has been joined by other unions and even members of Congress who are disgusted by this administration’s behavior.  

The hearing is set for July 25, which is our Red for Feds Day of Action. We will gather in Washington, D.C. and take action in our communities nationwide.

An all-out war on the U.S. labor movement  

The three executive orders are part of a larger campaign that has been going on for decades to purge unions and workers’ ability to demand a safe, just workplace.

Acting on behalf of business interests, politicians and officials from all levels all the way up to the Supreme Court are rewriting rules and laws to help enrich the wealthiest 1% while keeping wages low and health care and pensions close to non-existent for the rest of us.  

The wealthy and business interests have a reason to continue to chip away at the labor movement: economists have linked the decline of unions to wage stagnation and rising inequality, as workers lose the bargaining power to demand better pay.  

Here are a few examples of what they have recently done:  

  • Janus v. AFSCME 

In an attempt on AFGE’s D.C. locals and other unions representing state and local public employees, the Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) allowing non-union members who benefit from union work like higher pay and better benefits to not have to pay their fair share.  

Before the decision, non-union members were already able to opt out of paying for the union’s political and organizing activities. They only paid for the cost of collective bargaining which they benefited. This divide-and-conquer tactic seeks to force unions to do all the work for free for everybody until they run out of money and collapse, bringing workers’ rights along with it.  

The Janus ruling overturns its 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which allowed public-sector unions to collect fair-share fees from workers who have not joined the union yet benefit from the union’s contract and other services.  

  • Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis 

Prior to Janus, the Supreme Court had issued another decision that helped advance corporate interests. The high court ruled that companies can force employees into lengthy and expensive one-on-one arbitration procedures instead of allowing them to pursue class-action grievances.  

  • Right-to-work-for-less laws 

Acting on behalf of business interests, politicians have managed to pass the right-to-work-for-less laws in 28 states to undermine workers and their unions in the private sector.  

U.S. labor law requires that unions represent all employees in the workplace they have unionized. Unions are allowed to collect a fair share fee from non-members who benefit from union work – higher wages, better benefits, and a safer workplace. Right-to-work-for-less laws allow non-members in the private sector to benefit from union work without having to pay for the fee. These right-to-work-for-less laws have hurt union finances and ability to bargain for better wages and benefits – exactly what businesses want.  

  • Wisconsin  

Bankrolled by the likes of the Koch brothers, newly elected Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in 2011 launched a crusade against the middle class. Walker signed into law a bill that stripped state workers most of their collective bargaining rights. It prohibited public sector unions from bargaining over health coverage, pensions, hours, safety issues, sick leave, and vacations. The only thing unions could negotiate was base pay, but that was also limited to the rate of inflation.

The law also required employees to pay more towards their pensions and repealed a fair-share union fee requirement. It ended automatic union dues collection by the state and required the unions to recertify annually. Union membership in Wisconsin dropped sharply as workers’ take-home pay got cut and unions could no longer help them as much.  

  • Teachers’ strikes 

Politicians and privatizers’ war on public school teachers has been raging on for decades. The teachers are overworked, underpaid, and very much vilified. While states freely cut taxes for the wealthy, also cut too are teachers’ pay and retirement. That’s why from West Virginia to Oklahoma, teachers went on strike and took to the streets to demand a raise and respect. We stand behind these teachers and condemn these irresponsible politicians.  

We must fight back 

The Trump administration is a threat to our core values of democracy and justice.  

Visit www.afge.org/fightback for steps we can take to stop it. Also join our Day of Action on July 25 in communities nationwide.  

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