A union is still the best option for workers

By Oregon AFL-CIO president Tom Chamberlain

The war on the American worker appears to escalate every day. The U.S. Supreme Court will deliver a decision on Janus v. AFSCME that many believe will upend almost five decades of precedent and eliminate fair share fees for all public-sector workers. Federal workers who already operate in a right-to-work environment are being weakened further by recent presidential executive orders.

A Trump Executive Order eliminates official time, which allows union officers to represent all the members of the bargaining unit, union members and non, in grievances and matters of broad interest to the workforce, including labor management, safety, and productivity meetings.

Trump’s attacks go farther than any president in modern history in undermining federal workers by proposing a wage freeze and reducing federal retirement benefits by $143.5 billion over 10 years. Trump has instructed agency officials to prepare contract renegotiation recommendations that are “not subject to disclosure” to union representatives. These recom- mendations encourage managers to hasten dismissals of employees instead of suspending them while discouraging progressive discipline.

Trump’s animus towards workers and the unions that represent them reflects his corporate background, prioritizing wealth at the expense of workers. Those priorities are reflected in soaring CEO pay and three decades of stagnant wages for workers. 

While the attacks on workers intensify, many Americans are trying to readjust the direction of our nation. Though misguided, the election of Donald Trump was driven by voters who were fed up with a favored status of corporations, anti-worker trade agreements, stagnant wages, and shrinking benefits.

Americans do not trust the president, our government, or corporations, and they have had their fill of promises during elections which are only to be forgotten on Election Day. More and more Americans are looking to the union movement as a vehicle for change.

Over 60 percent of Americans support unions, the highest rating in two decades. That number is even higher among millennials. Last year, for the first time this century, union membership grew by 262,000, with over half of those millennials. 

We are seeing an uptick in union organizing in Oregon: Precision Castparts workers, Burgerville workers, and Oregon State University faculty are seeing the value and potential for bettering their lives through a union.

And once again, workers are using the strike to achieve better wages and working conditions. Teachers across the country have taken to the streets to improve their living standards and increase education funding.

It should not be lost that until 1935, workers did not have a legal right to join a union — let alone bargain a contract. Without any rights or protections, working women and men formed unions and created power and improved living standards for all workers.

The future of our movement is not dependent on the whim of the president or a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. We are a nation of workers who want a secure future for ourselves and children. As long as workers dream of a better life, they will see our movement as their best option. Yes, we are living through some very difficult times, but for our movement to survive and thrive we must not be discouraged and we must find the strength and determination to forge a 21st Century workers’ movement that builds power and reflects the broad diversity of the American worker.

1 Comment

  1. I couldn’t agree more.
    The labor movement gets it’s strength and protection from the solidarity of its members and friends. We must not depend on the politics of government to protect its rights, but rather the power of our solidarity and commitment to the mission of Labor around the world. That mission is more than just wages, hours and working conditions, it is to raise value of labor and the working classes that create the wealth.
    This is an ancient class struggle going back thousands of years, and it cannot and will not be defeated by any court ruling now matter how powerful, if we remember to keep our eyes on the prize, and join hands with our fellow workers in solidarity and comradeship.

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