The U.S. Supreme Court today turned its back on teachers and other union members with a ruling in a case—Janus v. AFSCME—aimed at stripping away their collective voice and freedoms.
Union members are not taking the threat lying down.
In a press conference and rally this afternoon, they vowed to stand strong and fight back against the latest attack on their freedom and their right to collectively bargain.
United we stand
Manchester High School math teacher Kate Dias, president of the Manchester Education Association, led off the rally by reminding those gathered, “The union has long been the vehicle for workers, like teachers, to grow and have power—the power to negotiate a living wage, to influence working conditions, to speak for our students, and to fight for more funding for our public schools, the greatest social equalizer this country has ever had.”
To resounding applause, she declared, “This court decision isn’t a silencing act—it’s a rallying cry!”
Paraeducator Shellye Davis, co-president of AFT Local 2221, added, “For more than a century, solidarity is what drove our labor movement to make sure that capitalism actually works for working people—not just the top one percent. Through it all, our unions have faced unrelenting attacks by the rich and powerful, whose aim has been to keep the economy rigged against the rest of us. We see that continuing today, in the assault by a network of dark-money donors who weaponized the courts to try to take us down. They’re the ones who pushed the Janus lawsuit, specifically to weaken unions like mine—and silence the voices of all paraeducators, classroom support staff, and millions of other public employees.”
An attempt to divide and conquer
In its 5-4 decision in Janus vs. AFSCME earlier today, the court struck down nearly four decades of precedent and legal protections established by the unanimous decision in Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education.
“This is an attack on children as well as an attack on teachers, nurses, firefighters, and other public-sector union workers who make up this nation’s middle class,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen, noting that the Court’s decision—a political one—hands over more power to corporations and billionaires “at the expense of the rest of us.”
The Janus case revolved around the issue of whether nonunion members should benefit from the wages, benefits, and protections negotiated by the union without paying the fair share cost of those negotiations. Connecticut’s fair share system has been a commonsense plan that worked well for both union and nonunion members. In states like Arizona and Wisconsin, where fair share was abolished, teachers’ voices have been silenced, salaries and benefits have plummeted, working conditions have eroded, class sizes are higher, and outcomes for students are often lower.
“The Janus case is an effort to take away educators’ freedom to speak with a unified voice about their workplace, their profession, and the well-being of their students,” said CEA Executive Director Donald Williams. “It’s an attempt to take away the rights of men and women to collectively bargain for fair salaries, benefits, and working conditions.”
A threat to everyone
Also speaking at the press conference was Waterbury firefighter Richard Hart (left), a member of IAFF Local 1339, who told the crowd, “The public’s safety and protection are paramount to our mission, and without the ability to bargain for equipment, tools, apparatus staffing, personal protective equipment, and training, we cannot protect those who cannot protect themselves. This decision by the Supreme Court grossly undermines our ability to protect the citizenry of the United States, places them at greater risk, and should be of grave concern to all.”
He added, “We won’t be defeated. We will persevere.”
Connecticut AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier summarized, “From brave first responders to dedicated public school teachers to life-saving nurses, our community is strong because of those who answer the call to public service. These public service workers are able to serve their communities better because they are union workers, and together as a union, they have the freedom to speak up together to help make our communities strong and safe. The billionaires and corporate CEOs who supported the Janus case are attempting to divide working people and limit our power in numbers. They know that unions give workers a powerful voice in speaking up for themselves, their families, and their communities.”
Responding to a reporter’s question about what unions plan to do in response to the court’s decision, one rally attendee put it simply: “We intend to organize more.”
The crowd chanted, “They say, ‘Give back.’ We say, ‘Fight back!’”
Though CEA is deeply disappointed by the Court’s decision, said Cohen, “We are stronger together, and we will work diligently and relentlessly to ensure that our union membership and bargaining power remains strong so that we can best serve our students and ensure a world-class public education system in Connecticut.”