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.


More in Opinion

Web
Have something to say?

Here’s how to add your voice to the conversation.

Former Gov. Bill Walker, right, and his running mate former commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development Heidi Drygas, speak to Juneauites gathered for a fundraiser at a private home in Juneau on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Why I’m voting for Walker

Walker is the only candidate with the potential to govern effectively for all Alaskans.

t
Opinion: The time has come to end Big Tech’s rule

The internet has opened doors and pathways to more than we could… Continue reading

Nick Begich III campaign materials sit on tables ahead of a May 16 GOP debate held in Juneau. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Nick Begich is who Alaska and America need now

It is in Alaska’s best interest to elect a member of the Republican party.

teaser
Opinion: If you see something, say something

Together we can fight to preserve this pristine place we live.

This photo shows the University of Alaska Southeast campus in Juneau. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: I’m a longtime educator, and I’m supporting Walker/Drygas

The issues our state faces are significant with regard to education.

t
Opinion: Congress could keep health insurance costs from rising, but it has to act fast

Some argue that the federal government paid out far too much money… Continue reading

signs
Opinion: A conversation about mental health

All in all, we want you to know that you are not alone.

Anselm Staack (Courtesy Photo)
Opinion: Controlling women’s bodies — the coming tsunami

The Thomas Court wants to return us to the days before the 1960s, preferably to 1776.

Opinion: The autocratic decision making for Cascade Point

Sufficient information hasn’t been provided for Cascade Point.

This March 2020 photo shows the City and Borough of Juneau City Hall. Voters will be asked again this fall if they want to extend a 1% temporary sales tax for another five years and city leaders are in the process of making a priority list of how the money would be spent if approved. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Should Juneau’s Assembly take sides in a municipal election?

“This is an inappropriate use of public money.”

Longtime Alaska law enforcement official Jim Cockrell, seen here in an undated photo in his role as a colonel with the Alaska State Troopers, was appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy as Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (Courtesy photo / Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy)
Opinion: Historic investment in public safety will save lives

I would like to thank Governor Dunleavy and the Legislature