The Supreme Court heard a case today that could seriously undermine unions for public employees and deliver another blow to the broader labor movement. The case centers on whether public employee unions can require employees who are not full members to pay a fair share to help cover the costs of negotiating contracts and representing employees in individual disputes. This may sound like an esoteric issue, but the consequences of a ruling against unions could be dramatic. In states that have passed right to work laws that include the elimination of fair share payments, membership in public employee unions has plummeted. This leaves the unions with less negotiating power on core issues like wages, health care costs, and family leave.
Conservative critics of unions argue that individuals shouldn’t be required to give money to a union when they disagree with its politics or lobbying efforts. This ignores the fact that all employees, whether they are full members of the union or not, benefit from the bargaining power of the union. And if the union is significantly weakened, all of the employees stand to lose. Conservatives don’t genuinely care about the First Amendment rights of public sector workers; it’s a pretense for destroying what little political influence the labor movement still has.
I belong to a public sector union, so I have a personal stake in this fight. Public sector jobs have long been a a gateway to the middle class for society’s marginalized, including people of color and people with disabilities. If our unions no longer have the resources to advocate for us and our fellow workers, that gateway may slowly disappear.