Sun. Jan 23rd, 2022

If you are working on a degree in the education field, or any number of social services, your future will likely entail joining a public sector union. Such unions not only come with certain protections and benefits, but they also tend to set high standards of pay and job conditions for non-unionized workers. And yet, unions –these legal assemblies of workers – are under attack.

That’s why West Chester University’s first Union Day, hosted by the university’s public unions, the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties (APSCUF), the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the State College & University Professional Association (SCUPA), could not have come at a more important time.

Perhaps the biggest threat to the ongoing existence of public (as opposed to private) sector labor unions in the U.S. are so called Right-To-Work (RTW) laws, which have been passed in 25 states, not including Pennsylvania. Membership in state sector unions has declined significantly in states where such laws have been passed, degrading the ability of workers to collectively defend their professions, working conditions and quality of life.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to take on the case of RTW, the threat of the whole country moving in this direction is real, which could have negative consequences for current West Chester University students’ future earning power—especially teachers, social workers, nurses, and other graduates who will seek employment in commonly unionized public-sector occupations. If RTW passes at the federal level, public sector unions across the country, and the workers they represent, will be in serious trouble. But why, and what exactly are RTW laws, and who is funding them?

RTW laws subvert labor unions from safeguarding themselves against workers refusing to pay their dues, often the result of employee intimidation tactics. According to RTW advocates, forcing workers to pay union dues is an attack on “personal freedom,” but, because unions are obligated by law to represent all workers regardless if they join the union or not, the National Labor Relations Board allows unions to negotiate safeguards against freeloaders and intimidation.

For example, if your union negotiates a contract, and you receive healthcare benefits, others who work there should also have to pay their fair share to support the work that brought you those benefits. The logic is simple; all workers in an organized shop should pay their union dues because all workers benefit from the union in terms of wages, benefits and legal protections.

A common myth about unions, such as teacher unions, is that they protect bad teachers. In reality teachers’ unions protect the due process by which faculty members are evaluated and then retained or fired: it makes sure those in power do not arbitrarily dismiss workers. Another common myth is that such unions are driven solely by self-interest. In reality, our faculty and coaches union, APSCUF, has a long history of advocating for student needs by defending the Pennsylvania state universities’ mission of providing the working people of the commonwealth with an affordable, high quality higher education.

If RTW initiatives were genuinely informed by the true interests of wage earners, you would expect the initiative to have emerged from workers themselves. This is not the case.

One of the primary groups advocating for anti-union measures is the National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC). Some of the more well-known contributors to the NRTWC are the Koch family, the Walton Family Foundation, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which have gained a reputation for throwing millions of dollars behind anti-labor efforts.

Among their initiatives, the NRTWC has spent over $33 million since 1999 lobbying the U.S. Congress. Demonstrating their true class interests, the NRTWC lobbied against the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it easier for workers to organize, while supporting initiatives that would reduce the power of the National Labor Relations Board over employers.

Unions have historically protected worker safety, advocated for benefits like sick days – and we have unions to thank for important employment conditions that we all take for granted, like the concept of the weekend! So come out to Union Day on October 15, enjoy some food and music, and hear from speakers about their unions’ ongoing struggles to exist.

Mark Rimple is the president of APSCUF-WCU.

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