Labor Pains

When I first started working in my current job 4 years ago (right about the time I mostly disappeared from blogging), I remember feeling kind of cranky about “fair share” union dues. We’d just moved to the Bay Area and were seriously struggling just to pay our crazy high rent; the dollars I saw disappearing with each pay period felt like a real hit.

I’d never worked in a union-represented job before. My feelings about organized labor felt like an intellectual exercise, like my feelings about the death penalty, or free trade – issues I might have a (more or less informed) opinion about, but that didn’t necessarily immediately affect me in a direct way.

And then I started working in a union job, and seeing and feeling the very real effects of having a union behind me: from the security and predictability of scheduled wage increases… to seeing beloved colleagues retire with a real pension ahead of them… to being actually compensated for time spent charting or calling patients after work hours or during lunch… to knowing that someone has my back if I need to file a grievance.

All of these were benefits ($$) that I could enjoy regardless of whether or not I chose to actually join the UC nurse’s union, because I was hired into a union contract job, and that’s how unions work.

But if someone had asked me way back in 2014 whether I wanted to pay union dues or not – and to see that money disappear from my paycheck every two weeks, without any impact on whether or not I’d get to enjoy all these awesome benefits ($$) – I’m honestly not sure what I would have said. Because I’m a human being.

Unions everywhere are made up of complex human beings who are struggling to pay their rent just like me. Some of these humans would have opted to pay union dues anyhow, because it’s the right thing to do (see above re: benefits ($$)). But a whole lot of them wouldn’t have.

So the Janus v. AFSCME decision yesterday, which strikes down “fair share” dues for public sector unions (which represent over half of all union workers in the U.S.) is a huge deal, and absolutely devastating for what’s left of the organized labor movement in this country.

This week has been an avalanche of disastrous decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court (see also decisions in favor of the Trump travel ban and anti-abortion “pregnancy crisis” centers and racially-motivated gerrymandering), so it feels almost absurd to bother commenting on this one, but in case this particular blip in the outrage news cycle feels like a distant intellectual exercise to you – like it did to me for years – here’s hoping it feels a little less distant now.


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