UCLA Union Workers Protest Supreme Court Case

Photo by Nicolette Danielle Greco

On Monday, Feb. 26, several unions and workers hosted a rally titled, “We Rise.” The rally took place on the steps of Powell, garnering about 200 individuals. The unions who collaborated include SLAP (Student Labor Advocacy Project), UC-AFT Local 1990 (part of the American Federation of Teachers) which represented lecturers and librarians at UCLA, UAW Local 5810 which represented postdoctoral researchers, UAW Local 2865 (UC Student Workers Union) which represented over 15,000 tutors, readers, and TA’s, and UPTE-CWA which represented university technical and professional employees.

The purpose of the rally was to educate and protest the Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME, which began its hearing that day. Mark Janus, an Illinois child-support specialist, argues that non-union members paying compulsory union fees impede freedom of speech under the First Amendment. He does not believe fees should be mandatory, as the union may make decisions that he does not agree with, or have goals he represents.

The falsity of his argument is that unions represent you. The purpose of a union is to serve its members, by fighting and securing necessities such as job security, wage benefits, affordable healthcare, pensions, vacation and sick days. These are much less seen in employment nowadays. The paid dues are a logical part of the necessary capital that is required for the union to actively pursue these goals, and be successful — which they are.  All this labor is being done in workers’ benefits, even if they are a non-member.

Unions are crucial in minimizing wage gaps, which particularly affect women of color, who may be hurt the most if Janus succeeds. Unions provide minorities the representation that is sorely lacking in cases of discrimination  and worker rights.

Janus is parading this case on a false premise. By basing his argument on the most well-known and cited amendment, he easily renders support. The argument is an inauthentic divisive ploy to union-bust. It is a manipulative strategy, and it is not new to the Supreme Court. A similar case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, took place last year. After the death of Justice Scalia, the court rendered a 4-4 decision and denied the petition to rehear the case.

The premise of union fees being an offense to the First Amendment is an active strategy of conservative, pro-business, right-wing activists, who seek to drive unions to extinction. A win for Janus would enable companies to pocket all the money that goes into better wages, benefits, job security, and pensions, further entrenching inequality in the US, to a disparity unseen since the 1920’s.

Commenting on that tendency, Karl Lisovsky, an English lecturer at UCLA, declared “Let’s face it, unions are bad for billionaires,” in his speech.

Marcia Santini, a nurse at UCLA for 30 years and a union departmental representative, shared, “Without a union, your voice goes unheard. Unions are the checks and balances between management and staff. If you have a problem at work, you can approach your manager without fear of intimidation or retaliation.”

Indirect punishment, or favoritism is also a problem in companies, which union representatives like Santini help remedy. Unfair treatment by superiors to their employees often takes form in the reduction of hours, disagreeable shifts, or being fired, Santini explained.

Trump appointed Supreme Court justice Neil Gorusch to replace Justice Scalia. The odds are not in favor for the unions, as it is seeming like it will be a 5-4 vote, with Gorusch breaking the previous tie. We can expect the court to make its decision in June.

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