The End of Unions… or not

If you believe the press coverage, it seems inevitable that the upcoming Janus decision will strike a mortal blow to public sector unions. And while that is a very real possibility, it is not a foregone conclusion. Yes, there will almost certainly be some negative impact, but there are reasons to be optimistic that unions, especially in New York, will not only survive this threat, but may even come out stronger.

In general, there is a risk in writing about why a threat may may turn out to be less severe than predicted. It can lead people to become complacent, which then leads to the very outcomes we’re hoping to avoid. So let me be clear – the hope that we will weather this storm is 100% predicated on union members being informed, engaged, and united. If we snooze, we lose. That said, here’s why there is reason for hope.

  1. As we’ve been reporting, our union is resurgent. We’ve had a good number of victories of late and have held back numerous threats. We have a solid momentum to build upon, including some important changes within SWRTA (such as the ambassador program) to help improve communication and responsiveness.
  2. We have support from Albany. In his State of the State address, Gov. Cuomo pledged to “stand shoulder to shoulder with our union brothers and sisters in this fight.” Now, we all know why Cuomo is suddenly trying to be labor’s friend, and of course we need to be wary. But he’s clearly decided that his fortunes align with ours, and that’s a good thing. The impact of a negative Janus decision can be mitigated or exacerbated by the state executive and legislature, and we’re fortunate to have them (for the most part) in our corner.
  3. We’ve learned lessons about what will happen. When other states went “right-to-work” it’s likely that teachers who became “free-riders” just looked at the benefit of having a few extra bucks in their pockets by not paying union dues. Now we’ve seen what happens. That $1,000 savings very quickly becomes a few thousand dollars in lost benefits and salary.
  4. We’ve also learned lessons about how anti-union groups will try to divide us, and are ready to respond. Sure, they’ll come up with new tricks this time, but we’re well organized and able to react.
  5. Threats bring people together. Whether you’re talking about teachers, cops, firefighters, or any other organized workforce, there are always some folks who have negative views toward the union. But as more and more people come to realize that the threat to unions will harm their colleagues, their friends, and their families (even non-union workers), we’re confident those folks will stand with the union.
  6. Along the lines of the above, there been a few pieces written (such as this one), suggesting that unions could come out of this stronger. One barrier we’ve faced with member engagement in the past few years is that most of our members are too young to have been involved in the most contentious fights for union rights and don’t feel the threat on a deep level. That’s about to change, and the result could be a greater understanding of, and commitment to, the union cause.


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