Labor Roundup: State, local government workers campaign for the best, prepare for the worst

The Supreme Court at press time was scheduled to hear arguments Feb. 26 on “Janus v AFSCME District Council 31,” the controversial lawsuit about whether employees at unionized workplaces who benefit from collective bargaining agreements must share in the costs of negotiating and enforcing the contracts – a case originating in Illinois.

The showdown has the nation’s top four state and local government workers unions campaigning for the best and preparing for the worst since the High Court has a 5-4 majority of Justices named by Republicans.

Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, Lily Eskelsen-Garcia of the National Education Association, Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees and Lee Saunders of AFSCME planned a Nationwide Day of Action Feb. 24. They also say they are engaging in internal organizing in case they lose.

The Right to Work crowd – which unions call the “right to work for less” committee – recruited and paid for attorneys to represent dissident Illinois public worker Mark Janus and two other colleagues challenging a 42-year-old decision letting public worker unions collect “agency fees” from non-members they represent, covering some costs but no political expenditures.

“The Janus case is about trying to take away” the right of public service workers to organize “to protect the most-vulnerable,” said Saunders, whose union has more than 1.4 million members.

“The billionaires and special interests” funding Janus “don’t believe we should have a seat at the table.”

Weingarten said, “This case is about power,” singling out the Koch brothers, Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her family, and the Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee as culprits. “The funders of this case want a new Gilded Age.”

The right-wing groups “have made it their business to dismantle” unions, workers and their protections for the last 40 years, said SEIU’s Henry, who added that her union is “going to double down” on organizing new workers, particularly through the “Fight for $15 and a union” movement.

There’s also one more move unionists are doing, she said: jumping even more into politics. “Each one of our locals is seeing more of our members signing up for voluntary political donations and actions,” she said. “That gives us a shot at countering the attack by the billionaires.”

Union-backed Poor People’s Campaign launched

The second Poor People’s Campaign was launched last month, in Washington and 32 state capitals, with letters and petitions to lawmakers and other officials demanding they attack systemic racism, poverty, hunger, the destruction of voting rights, and a militarist tilt to federal spending. It will culminate with 40 days of peaceful civil disobedience, calling attention to those demands, between Mother’s Day and the summer solstice. And on that day, June 23, there will be another mass march on Washington, sponsors said.

Organized by the Rev. William Barber, founder and leader of the Moral Mondays movement that began as a crusade for restored voting rights and civil rights in North Carolina, the new Poor People’s Campaign aims to emulate the first such drive, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 50 years ago, before his assassination by a white racist.

Like Dr. King’s drive, where the civil rights leader backed workers’ right to organize and demand respect and decent jobs, this campaign encompasses economic demands as well as political demands.

“The prejudice, the lack of living wages, the tax cuts for the wealthy, the ecological devastation, and spending four to five times as much on war and militarism” than on programs to help people all must be focuses of the coming protests, Barber said.

Overlooked proposal in Trump speech worries government employees

Under the guise of “accountability,” President Donald Trump in his State of the Union address advocated making it easier to fire federal workers, with little due process and on short notice. That upsets J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest federal workers’ union, with 310,000 members and rising.

Trump demanded lawmakers “empower every Cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”
“What the president is actually asking Congress to do is give all of his Cabinet secretaries the power to fire federal employees they consider not loyal to the administration and its political agenda,” Cox said. “Make no mistake: This is a plan to politicize federal employment and allow the administration to hire and fire on the basis of politics rather than merit.”

Unions protest Trump eviction of Salvadorans

Unions, including Painters, Bricklayers, the Service Employees and Unite Here, strongly protested GOP President Trump’s latest eviction of refugees.

Trump this winter ordered some 200,000 Salvadorans who’ve lived and worked here legally for an average of 21 years to leave. They’re the latest group Trump has told to get out within 18 months. They’re on Temporary Protected Status (TPS), available to refugees from natural disasters or from high-crime or widespread violence.

Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan said Trump’s eviction “will cause extreme suffering” not just for Salvadoran TPS cardholders, but for their families, including 194,000 U.S.-born children. Some 88 percent of all TPS cardholders, who must pay $500-$700 every six months to renew their “blue cards,” work, with one-third of them in construction. Many are union members.

SEIU vice president Rocio Saenz said Trump’s eviction of the Salvadorans “is consistent with the pattern set by the administration over the last year to cause misery for immigrants, people of color, or working people.”

Unite Here vice president Maria Elena Durazo said Trump “is taking nearly 200,000 law-abiding American immigrants and turning them from legal workers into targets for deportation.”

News briefs courtesy of The Labor Paper

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