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Anti-unionists threaten all of us

New York Teacher

Today, like never before, our collective bargaining rights, benefits and protections are under fire, and we must stand united to keep and protect everything we have fought for and earned over the years.

Our enemies will spread rumors, innuendos, lies and misinformation designed to undermine working people. They will pretend to be our friends when their goal is to hurt us. In the absence of our standing together, attempts by others, including outside entities, have the potential to destroy us from within. If we fall prey to their lies, we risk losing everything.

The notion that unions are unnecessary is a ridiculous one, promulgated by those who seek to crush workers, and we must not let our colleagues buy into it.

Yet there are those who seek to attack unions from the outside and there are anti-union sympathizers within the rank and file as well. The concept of anti-union sympathizers working to sabotage a labor union that afforded them a litany of benefits, rights and protections is both stultifying and mind boggling. Labor unions have helped create and grow the middle class in this country, which is why I wonder how others could act in such a way. To attempt to destroy that which benefits you, as well as your family, is truly beyond comprehension. Why harm others? Why become a sympathizer? Why curry favor with an enemy? Will it lead to better relationships, more money or fame?

There are two people who can perhaps answer the aforementioned questions and who have also become synonymous with attacks against labor: Mark Janus and Rebecca Friedrichs.

The Janus v. AFSCME lawsuit that culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision to eliminate agency fees was financed by anti-union billionaires. But it was fronted by Mark Janus, a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Janus retired less than a month after the high court’s decision and became a senior fellow at the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank that helped bankroll his case. Janus was an agency fee-payer and the $45 he paid to AFSCME each month helped offset the cost of the collective bargaining that won his union benefits. He is now asking a federal appeals court to order the refunding of the fees he paid to the union over the years. He has not, however, offered to give back any of the benefits he received because of his union or any of the pay increases that allowed him to earn more than $70,000 a year as a child support worker.

Rebecca Friedrichs, a teacher who enjoyed union-provided benefits for 28 years, sued the California Teachers Association along with nine other teachers in a lawsuit on the same issue that preceded Janus. The suit was brought by the Center for Individual Rights, a conservative law firm, with funding from the conservative Bradley Foundation. Friedrichs has since written a book — “Standing up to Goliath: Battling State and National Teachers’ Unions for the Heart and Soul of Our Kids and Country” — but has left teaching and those same kids. She appears on conservative television shows and writes opinion pieces.

Their tactics have backfired. Instead of tearing apart unions, their actions have only deepened members’ resolve to stand together for the good of the individual and their unions as a whole.

I have been criticized for using the words “battle,” “war” and “army” when speaking about this issue, but I make no apologies. This is a war against our profession, our livelihood and our union. To combat these attacks, we must strive to recognize our opponents, fight back on all fronts and not fall prey to their propaganda.

The only way to be victorious is to be “an organized association of workers formed to protect and further their rights and interests.”

In order to win, we must be what I just defined: a union.