Union Organizing: a Civil Right

right to organize

Now that the arguments were made — on both sides — in the Janus v. AFSCME case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 26, the waiting game for the ruling by the court begins.

However, we want to make clear that our rights shall not be dictated by a majority of nine in a single legal case. Importantly, our right to organize, collectively bargain with our employers, and stand together as a solid bloc, is a civil right, one that cannot be denied or taken from us.

A quote from the American Civil Liberties Union’s on its own stand on collective bargaining says it best: “Unions facilitate and enhance the ability of their members to exercise core civil liberties, such as the First Amendment rights of association, speech and petition.”

The U.S. Constitution protects the right to association for individuals with common interests to unite and form organizations to fight — and protect — their interests. The right to organize, defend our fellow workers from bad bosses and unsafe working conditions, and negotiate for fair wages and benefits stem from these basic tenets expressed in the Constitution.

In 2012, an important book was published that stated that the right to organize is a civil right. The book, “Why Organizing Should be a Civil Right,” by Richard Kalenberg and Moshe Marvit says the Civil Rights Act should be amended to include the right to work, especially during this period of skyrocketing income inequality and the relentless attacks on working families by right-wing 1 percenters.

The authors make a convincing argument that the right to unionize is a civil right, which can be recognized by a law of the U.S. Congress. Doing so would strengthen workers power and expand the freedoms of Americans to negotiate for fair wages and working conditions.

The groundwork for a push for such an amendment must begin now — no matter what the U.S. Supreme Court decides in Janus. We are all in for the mid-term elections in November, and an important priority is to elect legislators who support our fightback against this reactionary anti-union maelstrom.

If we win in November, we must push the next U.S. Congress to act. While this year we act in defiance, we hope next year is the time for advancing our rights.

This editorial appeared in the March 2018 issue of Public Employee Press, the official publication of District Council 37, AFSCME, which represents 125,000 municipal workers in New York City.

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