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Unions and the Janus Monster

Nov 6, 2017 by

If the US Supreme Court ruling in the Janus case goes as feared next spring, we will be a “right-to-work” nation, which means we will be dead last among industrialized nations in crucial aspects of our working environments.

There will be no job security, no whistle-blower protections, no enforceable workplace safety standards, no pension, no employer-provided health insurance and no worker input into work-related issues except as voluntarily solicited by bosses at whose pleasure we will serve under pain of termination at will with no chance of appeal.

Talk-show hosts whose guaranteed contracts are in the tens of millions, the prospect of being at the total mercy of bosses our reclaimed “freedom” as the Framers envisaged our country.

Ah yes, “exceptionalism’ indeed!

The adverse decision, practically ensured by the appointment of Justice Gorsuch, will put middle-class Americans into a labor-relations time-capsule and propel us workers at the speed of light to eras bygone and already repudiated several generations ago.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Janus case naturally know better than to state upfront what their true motives are. They can’t just say they want to destroy unions. They have to couch it in language that sounds high-minded and above the fray of emotional contention. It is their stock-in-trade to masquerade their blood-lust in the costume of irrefutable democratic principles.

Although every benefit and humane comfort that  exists in the workplace is solely and exclusively because of their union, perhaps some members take it for granted and that may come back to haunt them and the rest of us too.

The plaintiffs in the Janus case demand the right to withhold their union dues while continuing to luxuriate in shelter behind the union’s shield. They claim to believe that their free speech rights are violated when unions, which must be politically active and take positions on many issues, occasionally do so on one that the large body of members may not unanimously and wholeheartedly endorse.

Under the spurious guise of “freedom of speech”, these selfish ingrates bask in the illusion of a due sense of violation. They’re crying foul with pockets filled because of what their union did for them.

Even before a ruling is rendered, the Janus case is a historical landmark-in-waiting. For decades, perhaps generations, it will be cited as a testament not only to the state of labor relations, but of the moral compass of the nation. It is almost inevitable that the bare majority of the Supreme Court will affirm the integrity of exploitation..

But as we await the catastrophe, we can also anticipate that its winds will carry the seeds of a mighty rebirth.

A Janus loss will not be a blessing, even in disguise. But “what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger”, according to a philosopher whose own death was unpersuaded by his quotation.

But certainly it will demonstrate what we are made of. It may stir us to organizational activism on a level unseen since the early days of collective bargaining victories.

All institutions are imperfect, including unions. They vary. Some could do more for their members and either can’t or, worse, don’t want to. But most unions, such as the teachers unions, are hard-working, intensely committed to their members and served communities, incorruptible, and positive agents of productivity not only for their members, but students, parents, and their own employers.

The enemies of the unions would rather hobble and render them impotent in the short-term and go in for the kill after the unions would have lost their aura of invincibility. As they see it, such a death would be perceived as more final. The Janus case is geared to strip unions of their viability and utility.

With Constitution-invoking rhetoric, the majority Supreme Court members will give a succor to the union-busting extremists.

Is the notion that unions may be revived as a result of being smothered a flaming paradox?

Union members, at least in New York City, have in many cases become complacent because the high-level of multiple services they have gotten has been neither interrupted nor seriously threatened. Such apathy is not helpful at a time when we must be aggressive.

Often when we don’t know what we have until we lose it, but after the “rude awakening”, some panic and scrambling, there is monumental focus and unflagging energy leading to redemption. We may need to be shocked into reality to become competent in dealing with it.

All middle-class members, whether or not union members, must brace for the Supreme Court massacre sometime between March and June.

But even if the ruling goes against the unions, and therefore the honor-grain of the nation, there are several different possible outcomes which may fall short of a worst-case scenario. It may be more bruise than decimation.

The Janus case may not be a fight for the soul of the nation but it is a battle for its conscience.

Unions may retreat for a round, but they will deliver an awesome counter-punch with time.

Ron Isaac

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