Freedom to join unions can fix this economy

  • By Jim Duncan
  • Tuesday, September 5, 2017 4:07am
  • Opinion

Across the country, and in Alaska, Americans are working longer hours for less money and fewer benefits, despite being more productive than ever. No matter how hard we work, many are finding it more and more difficult to get by and provide for their families. In truth, only the rich have seen their salaries and wealth skyrocket.

This is not by accident.

Big corporations and the wealthy — along with the politicians and lobbyists who do their bidding — have set our economy and our political system against people who do the work.

This Labor Day, we need to confront this and fix the economy. It’ll take a lot of work — and we can start by protecting and strengthening the freedom of American workers to join together in strong unions. When workers have the opportunity to speak up together through unions, we make progress that benefits everyone.

Even when the deck is stacked beyond all odds, the strength in numbers that unions provide lifts up entire communities. In 1968, almost 50 years ago, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched alongside striking sanitation workers who demanded the freedom to join a union. It was their union that gave them a voice and the power in numbers to resist racist and phony “right-to-work” legislation that to this day drives wages down for working people and communities of color.

Today, despite unprecedented attacks from phony “right-to-work” legislation and other political scams, people in unions continue to win rights, benefits and protections not only for themselves, but also for all working people in and outside of the workplace. When police, firefighters, 911 dispatchers, nurses and EMS workers belong to strong unions, we fight for staffing levels, equipment, and training that protects and saves lives. When educators join together in a union, they advocate better learning opportunities for students like small class sizes and modern textbooks. When union membership is high, entire communities enjoy wages that represent a fair return on their work and greater social and economic mobility. And unions use our collective voice to advocate for policies that benefit all working people — like increases to the minimum wage, safer communities, affordable health care, and great public schools.

That is why working people across the country are calling on elected leaders and candidates running for office to publicly support the freedom of working people to join together in unions and make their communities better. From fast food workers demanding $15 an hour and a union to public service workers speaking up for safer communities, great public schools and better health service, American workers are standing up.

We know the truth: When the freedom to join together in unions is secure, other freedoms are likely to be too. Like the freedom to attend a parent-teacher conference or to take off work when they’re sick without fear of losing our jobs or pay for the day. Or the freedom to choose where to live because high-quality public schools are available to all communities, not just those who are wealthy. Or the freedom to retire with dignity.

Unions like ours fight for these freedoms for everyone, and that’s why we are the target of the CEOs who have used their wealth and power to rig our country’s economic rules against working people. They are now trying to get the Supreme Court to take up a case, Janus v. AFSCME to strike at the freedom of working people to join together in strong unions, threatening to rig the economy even further.

If corporations and politicians wipe out our freedom to form unions, they’ll be able to keep driving down wages, killing jobs, defunding our public schools and public safety services, silencing working people at the ballot box, and crippling the fundamental values we celebrate today.

Labor unions are more critical to America’s success than ever. Union members know that freedom is not given, it is fought for, and it has to be protected. And we’re going to keep fighting to protect it and fix our economy once and for all.

• Jim Duncan is executive director of Alaska State Employees Association/AFSCME Local 52. Jake Metcalfe is executive director of Public Safety Employees Association/AFSCME Local 803.

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