Greetings Brothers and Sisters of AFSCME Local 328,
The U.S. Supreme Court has announced its decision in the Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 case. The decision overturns a previous 9-0 precedent that had ensured fair public-sector labor continuity for more than 40 years. Five individual justices have now settled case law that impacts millions of public-sector unionized workers in the United States. This ruling, which our union has been preparing for, creates a more difficult landscape for us to navigate, and inevitability means there will be “free riders” availing themselves of benefits that their coworkers have paid for.
I want to be clear — this case wasn’t brought by chance. There’s a correlation between this case and the work of the Freedom Foundation and other right-wing anti-worker groups. Union density translates to higher wages and better benefits. Weakening public-sector unions will have a negative impact on the earning power of working-class Americans. Income inequality in the United States is at its greatest level since the Great Depression; even so, there’s a select class of people who want to reap even more from an already rigged economy. For example, the type of person who gave $28.5 million in dark money to promote Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Court obviously expects a return on his or her investment. The United States is an economic superpower with the largest economy in the world — a weak labor movement ensures that more and more of the wealth created by workers flows to the top 1 percent.
At one point in our country’s history, more than a third of jobs were unionized. Even non-union employers were pressured to keep wages and benefits high, because their employees would otherwise leave and seek better-compensated jobs with union employers. Economic conditions at this time meant that someone could provide for a family and own a home on a single income. In the 1950s, a CEO earned about 20 times more than the typical employee. Today, the average CEO of a large company makes 271 times more than a front-line worker does. In 21 states, the minimum wage is only $7.25. More than half of personal bankruptcies are due to medical bills. Nearly one in three private-sector workers, and 70% of the lowest-paid workers, do not have paid sick time. After decades of corporate attack, private-sector unionism dwindled to 20% in the 1980s and stands at only 6.5% today. Public-sector unions have been the last bastions for working people, at 34.4% membership, but the Janus ruling instantly reduces that number.
Brothers and sisters, know this: In spite of this ruling, our union is still very much here. The Supreme Court can’t take away our union. Billionaires’ money and greed can’t take away our union. OHSU can’t take away our union. Any decision to weaken our union will be made at the individual level.
You have a choice when it comes to signing your membership card. When Act 10 passed in Wisconsin in 2011, AFSCME represented nearly 63,000 employees. Individuals made the decision to drop their membership, and today that number is less than 20,000. On the flip side, federal-employee unions have been required to survive in a “right to work” environment for some time. This hasn’t stopped the American Federation of Government Employees from growing its membership by 100,000 since 2012. This hasn’t stopped the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 82 union in Portland from achieving a membership rate of almost 95 percent.
Our power comes from collective action. Our union’s ability to represent our members’ interests and ensure fairness at OHSU is directly tied to the number of employees who have made the commitment to belong to our union. What kind of union do you want negotiating with OHSU early next year — a weak one or a strong one?
I’m extremely proud of the work done by our union’s member leaders in preparation for the court’s decision. We have consistently budgeted prudently. Over the last few years we have put significant effort into growing our executive board, our steward program and our unit-steward ranks. I thank every activist and volunteer who’s taken the time to talk to coworkers. It’s because of you that our members know the value of our union and it’s because of you that Local 328’s membership numbers keep growing.
In the days ahead, let’s talk. Come to an AFSCME table in the cafeteria. Speak with your unit steward. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback about contract language you’d like to see. Attend a future bargaining listening session in your department. Be informed. Talk to your coworkers about our union. Consider if you’d like to volunteer in some sort of capacity during negotiations.
Please attend, or watch online, our bargaining town tall on Wednesday, July 11, at 12 noon in UHS 8B60. (The live-stream link will be emailed out the day of the town hall.) After the town hall, dues-paying members will be voting to determine how they want our bargaining team to be structured. We elect our bargaining team in late August.
We are stronger together, and AFSCME strong!
Matt Hilton, President
AFSCME Local 328