One year ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision in a long-awaited case called Janus v. AFSCME.
It was supposed to be a major win for anti-union forces that have fought for decades to weaken the protections labor unions provide for working families.
The Court ruled that people in public sector unions — teachers, fire fighters, police officers and municipal workers — could keep enjoying the benefits of a union contract, but stop paying union dues. Many predicted the end of the labor movement. After all, bargaining contracts costs money. If enough members decided to stop paying their dues, unions would die.
But they were wrong.
I am proud to report that, one year later, we’re still here. And we are stronger and more united that ever before.
While the Janus decision was disappointing, it wasn’t a shock. We had been following the case for some time. We knew the danger it posed. But more importantly, we knew it was a good opportunity to do what unionists do best: get organized.
For the past few years — through the NYSUT Member Organizing Institute —our members have gone door-to-door highlighting the value of union membership.
These trained volunteers meet individually with fellow NYSUT members, in their homes, to discuss why strong unions are important to fighting for good jobs — jobs that provide a decent wage and benefits, a voice for employees in the workplace and a secure retirement.
They talk about how NYSUT goes to bat for them at the state level, holding politicians accountable when important issues need attention, and keeping the pressure on until they make changes.
And they talk about our advocacy on behalf of New York State students — because the working conditions of educators are also the learning conditions of students.
It’s working. Despite a coordinated effort to convince people to leave their union, across the state we have actually seen an increase in the number of NYSUT members.
Our members know that when unions are weaker, salaries go down … benefits evaporate … jobs disappear … and the economy stagnates — not just for union members, but for the entire community.
They know what happened in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana when the unions fell. According to research from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, those men and women now earn 8 percent less annually, compared to unionized workers in neighboring states.
Our members know, and they aren’t about to let that happen here.
The activists, who formed NYSUT almost 50 years ago, put down strong roots. As I like to say, “I am standing in the shade of trees that I did not plant.”
But standing in the shade doesn’t mean resting on our laurels. We’re actively planning for the future of NYSUT.
Our newest initiative, “Next Generation NYSUT” focuses on our newest members. It will provide them the professional support they need to grow and thrive. It will help them confront the crippling student debt crisis that affects too many of our members. And yes, it will educate them about the work of the union.
In today’s climate of corporate greed and shrinking salaries and benefits, working people need the protections offered by strong unions now more than ever. We’re committed to ensuring that unions are around for generations to come.
I guess you could say that we’re planting a few trees of our own. Because chances are, in the years to come, those future NYSUT members will need a bit of shade too.
Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.
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