How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Unions Help Level the Planning Field

Let me put my cards on the table. I’m pro-union. My daughter is the Manager of Membership and Administration of the New England Office of SAG-AFTRA. I believe that strong unions are one of the most effective means available to level the playing field in America. I’m concerned that the gap between the rich and the poor will grow even wider if union membership continues to decline (now half of what it was in 1983).

Make no mistake about it the partisan 5-4 June 27, 2018 Supreme Court decision in Janus vs. AFSCME, which allowed public sector workers to opt out of mandatory union membership dues, was a major setback for workers’ rights. It will significantly reduce the amount of dues a union collects.

For many years, the compromise had been to make non-members who would otherwise free-ride on collective-bargaining agreements pay “agency fees” — the share of union dues that go to non-political operations and overhead. In the Janus decision, conservative jurists on the Supreme Court cited the First Amendment and overturned “agency” or “fair share” fees. Judge Alito wrote that agency-shop agreements violated “the free speech rights of non-members by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”

The ruling affects only public sector unions, those which play a disproportionately large role in the modern American labor landscape (public employees have a 34.4% unionization rate in 2017 vs. 6.5% for private sector). Now all public-sector workers covered by a union have to opt in and consent before paying anything.

Unions reduce inequality in three fundamental ways. First, they do it through their engagement in the collective bargaining process and their continuing efforts to make sure that management lives up to the provisions and requirements set forth in collective bargaining agreements. The result is better wages, working conditions and security for their members. More specifically, trade union members earn on the average 10% more than non-trade unionized members and they stay on their job an average five more years than non-unionized workers. Both of these outcomes help to reduce the income inequality gap.

Second, many unions are actively and aggressively involved in political lobbying, typically for progressive causes and Democratic candidates. For decades, unions have been a countervailing force to the donations supplied by big business. However, the combined affect of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United and in the Janus case have been to reaffirm corporations rights to contribute to political campaigns and reduce the ability of labor unions to do likewise by eliminating “agency fees” from those who opt out union membership.

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court struck down the law prohibiting corporations and unions from spending money from their general funds to influence federal elections through independent expenditures or electioneering communications. Previously, they could use money given voluntarily from their members and employees to their political action committees for political spending. Unions spent $1.713 billion during the 2016 campaign with the vast majority going to Democrats and corporations spent $6.5 billion divided across parties to candidate who support the agenda of big business.

The third way that unions reduce inequality is by providing rank-and-file grass roots boots on the ground support to primarily Democratic candidates. Many a phone bank is manned by union supporters. And most importantly, GOTV Election Day efforts are generally heavily staffed by donated union labor. This is the case in Mercer County, and in most cities in New Jersey, where Democrats traditional do extremely well. Not only do New Jersey labor unions provide manpower they also provide significant financial support to Democratic County Committees throughout the state. Without the continued significant support of labor; New Jersey Democrats would be big trouble.

Recently, the President of Mercer County’s Central Labor Council, Michael Maloney, flexed his considerable political muscle when he indicated publicly that he was upset at Mercer Democrats. More specifically, he indicated that “This whole county is exploding with work and we don’t even do 10 percent of it. It’s all being done with out-of-the state area contractors.” Maloney added that local workers should be used because they spend what they earn locally “They are going to go to the bakery. They are going to the local barbershop.” While I’m not sure of Mike’s exact numbers, I get what he is saying.

I would like to see New Jersey enact an In-State Contracting Preferences law like the one in Connecticut that “established a preference for hiring-in state workers for state construction projects. By law firms (1) must make every reasonable effort to hire in-state workers as mechanics, laborer, and workmen and (2) cannot knowingly employ nonresidents if qualified residents are reasonably available. The law subjects firms to a $200 per week fine for each week they violate the requirement. The provision does not apply in all cases where the preference would cause the state to loss federal revenue. For example, it would not apply to most major transportation projects, as these are often funded at least in part by federal revenue.”

I’m not sure if the majority of residents of Mercer County would favor such a law in New Jersey. My suggestion, let’s have a county-wide referendum on this question with a clear interpretative statement that spells out the pluses and minuses of an in-state preferences policy. The results of the referendum would provide our state legislators with a clear indication of where the public stands on this important issue.