It's Open War Against Unions on All Fronts Now

A 1995 Detroit newspaper strike.
A 1995 Detroit newspaper strike.
Photo: AP

The Republican Party, acting on behalf of business interests, wants to smash the institution of organized labor in America, because doing so will allow rich people to make more money. We are living in dark, dark times for unions. A brief survey of the threats:


The Supreme Court’s Janus ruling last month, which will suck a substantial number of members and revenue out of public unions, was a major blow. But we all saw that one coming for years. The bigger story is that Janus was just the centerpiece of a larger campaign against the very existence of unions that has been going on for decades. And under the Trump administration, every possible path is being pursued that can cut union membership, drain unions of funds, and undercut union power so that working people are less able to assert themselves as equals with the companies that employ them.

The great sucking sound. While the Janus ruling will allow public union members to decide not to pay their fair share of fees for the services that the union provides to them, there is now an effort to push the ruling even further: Some (hand-selected) teachers are suing to be refunded for fees they already paid to their union in the past. This would have the effect of making the financial damage of Janus to public unions even more critical. It is an indication of the right wing’s ultimate desire to fully cripple public unions once and for all.


Decertification. The ultimate blow against an existing union is decertification, when union members themselves vote to quit having a union. This phenomenon is rare, for the obvious reason that a functional union brings workers higher pay and better working conditions. But the same forces that helped fund the Janus groundwork are now trying to make it easy and tempting for more workers to decertify their unions, targeting precedents from the National Labor Relations Board. From Bloomberg:

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, still basking in its “fair share” public sector union fees win in Janus, is targeting the NLRB’s 2010 decision in Lamons Gasket Co. next.

A Democrat-majority board in that case said workers have to wait at least six months from the time an employer voluntarily recognizes a union until they try to decertify the union. The board, chaired by Wilma Liebman (D) at the time, said only 1.2 percent of such challenges were successful in the four years after a Bush board ruling that allowed workers to challenge a voluntary union recognition within 45 days of the recognition.

The foundation is representing a group of workers at a Hilton Hotel in Seattle who want to decertify a union recognized by the hotel owner in May. It also filed a similar decertification petition for a group of clerical workers in Wisconsin. Foundation lawyers argue that the businesses in both cases recognized the unions without properly gauging worker support.

To be clear, they are targeting existing unions that were voluntarily recognized by employers, after it was demonstrated to those employers that there was overwhelming support for a union among employees. This is simply an effort to hand a legal grenade to the one asshole at your job who wants to fuck it up for everyone else.

Pressure from the president. Trump himself is also using executive orders to directly attack the power of the unions that represent federal employees—some of the strongest public unions in America. He has already issued rules that slash the ability of workers to do union work, and obnoxiously restricts the ability of unions to use federal office space. More egregiously, Trump is attempting to reopen collective bargaining agreements and go back on agreements that are already in place. The Washington Post reports that Trump’s chief union buster, the conservative economist James Sherk, has been keeping extremely busy:

Over a decade at Heritage, a leading conservative think tank, Sherk, 37, wrote policy papers on the need to roll back public employee labor rights. He helped Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) engineer a plan to bust the state’s employee unions in 2011. He argued for freezing federal salaries to bring them in line with the private sector and said in a 2007 video that the landmark 1993 law granting unpaid family and medical leave encourages employee timecard abuses.

Since Trump took office, Sherk’s hard-line stance has helped guide the ongoing power struggles with the unions, according to Trump advisers.

In quick succession, federal employees have been subjected to budget cuts, a hiring freeze, a proposed pay freeze and $143 billion in proposed cuts to retirement benefits.


Despite all of these things, working people still have a few things going for them.

You have the undisputed legal right to form a union at work if the majority of workers want a union.


You have the right to not be retaliated against by your employer for union activity.

You have the right to withhold your labor from an employer trying to exploit you.


No matter what shitty laws the Koch Brothers get passed, they can’t stop you from getting all your coworkers together and telling your boss that no work will get done until you are treated fairly.

Nobody can stop you from taking to the streets.

Senior Writer.

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