Let me start by saying that I worked at a lot of different private sector jobs – not counting the jobs I had when I was a teenager – before becoming a career teacher at 38 years of age.
By “private sector,” I mean factory jobs: tire maker, welder, building truck trailers, assembly line vending machines, bicycles and steel.
Every one of them was a union job. Because of that I got a pretty good salary and health insurance that most importantly paid for the births of my children.
I have no experience in organizing a union where there was none. I know those who did, so I know it ain’t easy.
Before this year is out the United States Supreme Court will rule in favor of Mark Janus, a child-support specialist with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services in Springfield. He’s the named plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Illinois American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 in which his anti-union backers argue that it violates his rights to compel him, as a condition of his employment to pay for his benefits bargained by his union.
Janus replaces Friedrichs. When Antonin Scalia bought the farm, the court split evenly over the Friedrichs case, allowing a lower court ruling to stand preserving agency fees and fair share.
Trump added the right-wing Neil Gorsuch to the court and now the union goose is cooked.
When I first got a job as a teacher in the medium sized suburban Chicago school district where I ended up teaching for three decades, I wanted to join the teachers union. I asked around if anybody knew who the building’s union rep was. Nobody could tell me. I knew that my dues were being taken out of my check and that I had signed something when I first got hired. But like most new teachers, I was so happy to get a job that I didn’t pay much attention to what I was signing. Apparently there was a union membership form in there among the paper work. That’s how I became a member of the National Education Association.
By the time I got active in the local things had changed. Our local president got us time to meet with all the new-hires during orientation and we made a pitch. With fare share and agency laws in effect in Illinois, the amount equal to union dues had to be paid by each teacher anyway. We bargained on their behalf and enforced the contract on their behalf whether they were members or not.
But we wanted them to join and be members. Active members. Members who voted in union elections. Who served on union committees. Who ran to be un-paid union officers. Who voted for or against the contract we bargained. Who would fill a bus to Springfield on Lobby Day.
In all the years we did this, nobody ever refused to join.
But I’m not going to try and fool you. Take away fare share. Take away agency fees. The number of actual members will go down. Some people will always take something for free and let others foot the bill.
In the end this will drive down salaries and working conditions for everyone. That’s the idea.
I try not to be cynical but I’m too old not to be a realist.
And that is why Governor Rauner and the Illinois Policy Institute found someone to file this suit.
I don’t know what the teachers unions are going to do when the SCOTUS rules against them. It is hard for me to imagine that the current crop of leaders have the fire in their bellies to come up with a fighting strategy.
Some think the union will survive by offering better member benefits, like life insurance.
Some argue that having a union with only the members who actively choose to join and pay dues will make for a stronger union anyway.
I don’t think so.
I think what will have to happen is that the young teachers and other public employee workers will have to do what I never had to do.
Figure out a way to organize a union as if there was none. I know those who did, so I know it ain’t easy.
But they did it.