In a powerful speech championing unions, President Joe Biden said, “Unions put power in the hands of workers. They level the playing field. They give you a stronger voice for your health, your safety, higher wages, protections from racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Unions lift up workers, both union and nonunion, but especially Black and brown workers.”
Though Connecticut has a proud, decades-long history of union strength, the forces that have worked to undermine unions in other parts of the country are very much at work here too. State legislators have been debating a new law that would provide much-needed support.
In testimony before the Labor and Public Employees Committee, attorney Daniel Livingston (pictured above)—speaking on behalf of group of unions, including CEA—urged legislators to support Senate Bill 908: An Act Concerning the Right of a Public Employee to Join or Support a Union.
By protecting unions, Livingston said, the bill strengthens democracy in the workplace and gives employees “a genuine voice about the wages, benefits, and working conditions that play such a critical role in their lives and in their families’ lives.”
Commending the state for its long record of support for unions, he observed, “Through their unions, public employees are able to advocate for the people they serve, the services they provide, and in many cases, help provide a voice for those in communities whose voices are otherwise far too often muted or ignored by those with privilege and power in our state.”
By empowering employees, he added, “We allow people to raise important issues within their workplaces with less fear of retaliation or retribution. So, there is a very strong public interest in ensuring and protecting an effective and solid system of collective bargaining in the public sector.”
SB 908 protects unions’ ability to communicate with employees about how their contract works, how the grievance procedure works, and how they are free to speak their minds and receive representation.
“All of those things are important,” said Livingston, “and you need strong unions to ensure them.”
The bill ensures that unions are aware when new hires occur, have the contact information needed to reach out to them, and have access to new hire orientations so that new employees have an opportunity to learn about the union, their contract, and their rights and responsibilities.
Similar laws, he pointed out, have been passed in numerous other states.
Livingston noted that anti-union legal cases that have been purported to be brought by individuals are actually the work of billionaire-funded entities looking to reduce the effectiveness of the voices of working families and instead extend the privilege of the wealthy.
“Every court so far has ruled against them,” he said. “Obviously, through solidarity, unions have been able to withstand what Janus proponents have tried to do.”
Senator Julie Kushner, who co-chairs the committee with Representative Robyn Porter, said, “We like to be a leader in supporting workers and workers’ families.”
“We understand the critical importance of unions having a strong voice,” Porter agreed.