In a public hearing before Connecticut’s Labor and Public Employees Committee, CEA President Jeff Leake and others voiced their support of House Bill 5270, which protects the rights of teachers and others to join or remain in their union. Among other things, it prevents employers from deterring or discouraging employees from being members of their union or from learning about their union during new employee orientation.
“The bill we support is important because it ensures that the relationship between unions and their members is collaborative, communicative, and inclusive,” said Leake. “It pushes back against policies that undermine this relationship, and it fights back against individuals with unimaginable wealth who actively spend it to expand their wealth at the expense of the remaining 99% of workers just trying to get by.”
He added that union members—including teachers—have been targeted in recent years by misinformation from powerful special interests.
Joining CEA in support of HB 5270 were AFT Connecticut, the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges, AFSCME Council 4, the Connecticut AFL-CIO, Connecticut Employees Union Independent, and the Connecticut State University American Association of University Professors (CSU-AAUP). Speaking on behalf of these groups, Attorney David Livingston noted that HB 5270 recognizes the essential role unions play in ensuring that teachers and others have a voice when it comes to workplace issues.
“These are critical voices, and they are best served by a strong system,” said Livingston, adding that the system is threatened by the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME.
“When you invoke the people who are in favor of Janus,” he said, referring to powerful political interests such as the Koch brothers, “they are opposed to any system in which workers have a voice.”
Pushback Against Janus
“These groups have been strong-armed in pushing teachers and others to reject their unions in contradiction to their own interests,” added Leake. “HB 5270 helps to ensure that educators are treated fairly; are provided accurate and helpful information about their employment, their career, and their profession; and are able to freely advocate, through their unions, for their students and for better working conditions.”
Rep. Anne Hughes, who joined Livingston and others in favor of HB 5270, said that opposing the bill equates to “a serious undercutting of the professionalism of our workforce and the sidelining of new employees to know their rights.”
Senator Julie Kushner and Representatives Robyn Porter and Michael Winkler, all members of the Labor Committee, also voiced their support for the bill and the need to allow employees to hear from their union representatives about issues that could affect their work environments.
“There are forces looking to reduce union membership around the country,” Kushner said, “and thankfully, they have not been successful here in Connecticut.”
“The so-called ‘right to work’ experiment pushed by the plaintiffs in the Janus lawsuit should concern all of us,” said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel. “The results in other states have been negative for families and economies, and Connecticut lawmakers would be wise to heed their lessons for our residents. In states that passed restrictive ‘right to work’ laws, workers’ pay dropped over three percent on average. This is particularly troubling considering the era of unprecedented income inequality in which we are now living.”
Protecting the American Dream
“Unions raise wages and labor standards across the economy,” said Sal Luciano, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO. “Through collective bargaining, they provide workers with a voice on the job and the freedom to make a decent living, support their families, and have a secure, dignified retirement. That means teachers can negotiate smaller class sizes, nurses bargain safer nurse-patient staffing ratios, and first responders are able to negotiate improved health and safety protocols. This legislation would protect basic rights so that workers may continue to negotiate together not only for fair wages and benefits but for the communities in which they serve.”
“Teachers must have the right to stand up and speak out for their students,” said Leake. “That right allows them to advocate for laws and policies that create strong schools and even stronger communities that benefit all of us. The collective voice of teachers allows them to demand tools and resources our students need to succeed in school and in life—and the pay, benefits, and professional resources needed to ensure every student is surrounded by caring, qualified, and dedicated professionals who can help them become productive global citizens.”
“As the American middle class continues to shrink and families struggle to make ends meet, the freedom of America’s workers to join a union must be defended,” said CSU-AAUP President Patty O’Neill. “Research shows that union members’ average yearly income is about 16 percent higher than that of nonunion workers. Higher union wages benefit everyone, because higher wages mean less reliance on the social safety net and more revenue coming into state coffers to contribute to public goods. Failing to protect the right to unionize is tantamount to failing to protect the American Dream.”