[This op-ed originally appeared in the Daily News on June 27, 2018.]
The bad guys won’t win.
Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision aimed at the nation’s public-sector unions reflects years of scheming by forces desperate to destroy workers' rights. The finding in the Janus case will make it more difficult for unions to gather the resources they need to defend the interests of workers and their families.
But our union will remain strong, and we will not be silenced.
This battle has already been fought on many fronts. In 2011, with Governor Scott Walker at the helm and anti- union right-wing forces charting the course, Wisconsin gutted the right of most public unions to bargain over anything other than wages, and eliminated the requirement that nonmembers pay fees.
The third-grade class of Kim Kohlhaas (now president of the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin), went from 15 students to 32 — and on some days more than 60 when a colleague was out sick.
Teachers’ real salaries fell as they had to pay additional thousands of dollars every year for health care and their pension plan. Schools became revolving-door operations as teachers fled to different districts or different professions.
As teacher voices were silenced and their political influence diminished, funding for public schools and programs fell. Learning suffered, and test scores fell.
As part of our Union Proud campaign, UFT reps have knocked on tens of thousands of member doors and reached out before and after school to have conversations about the importance of union membership and collective action.
We reminded them that it was union solidarity and political power that helped turn back last year’s ill-conceived proposal for a New York State constitutional convention. It was teachers’ collective strength that won fair pay and benefits and set class-size caps in New York’s City public schools, and that it is the UFT that leads the fight every year in Albany for funds to support our students’ learning.
That same union strength was evident this past week when New York City educators — after a huge public campaign and many calls to elected leaders — became the first unionized municipal employees to receive paid parental leave.
The forces arrayed against us are powerful.
Right-wing outfits like the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation have financed the conservative National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which brought the Janus case and similar legal assaults; many of the same funders backed anti-union candidates like Walker, Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and others.
These people think their money, power and privilege give them the right to rig the system in their favor.
But just as Wisconsin parents have joined forces with teachers to rebuild the state’s education system, New Yorkers can preserve hard-won gains for our students, and for ordinary working men and women. Working with our voting families and friends, and with sympathetic elected officials, we can and will protect the education system we have made our careers and our passion.