Monday, July 9, 2018

US Supreme Court decision a step backwards for workers rights

With a recent US Supreme Court Decision, our neighbours to the south are now teetering perilously close to the edge of dismantling the rights of workers and increasing income inequality to unprecedented levels in the United States.

Dubbed the Janus decision - because it was brought forward by Illinois public service worker Mark Janus and backed by numerous anti-labour and conservative groups – it allows workers to opt out of paying dues, but still require the union to represent them.

The case was argued before the Supreme Court in February and the recent decision – voted 5-4 in favour along political lines – overturns legislation that had been in place since 1977.

As the National Union of Public and General Employees stated in a recent article on the Janus decision, “The problem with workers opting out of paying dues is that the union must still represent them. These ‘free riders’ reap the benefits of bargaining and the grievance process but are not obliged not contribute to the union. The more people who opt out, the less work the union will be able to do on behalf of workers. The Janus decision opens the door for employers to act with impunity against workers' interests, confident that the union's capacity to defend workers' rights has been weakened. Not only will workplaces be less fair, research shows that as labour rights decline, income inequality rises. Society as a whole will be negatively affected by this decision.”

New Brunswick Union President Susie Proulx-Daigle laments the decision by US Supreme Court.

“This is the unfortunate result of right-wing politics and the interest of the richest one per cent trampling the rights of workers,” she said. “Unions have always been a tremendous vehicle to advance the cause of the common people in the world. Unions have fought and made huge gains in so many areas that provide a better quality of life for workers and their families.

“With this decision, the court has sided not with the vast majority of the country it represents, but with a select few who are only concerned about the accumulation of money and power.”

There are groups in Canada who are actively trying to weaken unions despite a Supreme Court ruling from 2015 which concluded the right to freedom of association enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes a right to meaningful collective bargaining.

The ruling states, "We conclude that the s. 2(d) guarantee of freedom of association protects a meaningful process of collective bargaining that provides employees with a degree of choice and independence sufficient to enable them to determine and pursue their collective interests."

The ruling also discusses the importance of collective bargaining for workers as it provides "them the opportunity to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work. Put simply, its purpose is to preserve collective employee autonomy against the superior power of management and to maintain equilibrium between the parties."

However, Canadian unions will not rest and depend on court rulings. We will continue to fight for the rights of workers and oppose any group who seeks to undermine what we have rightfully and lawfully gained throughout the years.