I attended the 2018 Working People’s Day of Action. It is a national event that takes place in about 15 cities in the U.S. and is a day committed to the goal of “standing up for the freedom of working people to come together and fight for decent and equitable pay for our work, affordable health care, quality schools…”. The Columbus, OH rally was held at the Ohio Education Association’s headquarters and the rally was made up of around 200 people who were mostly teachers and union members. The Columbus and New York City rallies were focused on the upcoming Supreme Court decision regarding the case of Janus vs. AFSCME, which went to the Supreme Court on 2/26/18 and will be decided by early summer 2018. AFSCME is the union for a large amount of public workers while Mark Janus is child support specialist from Illinois who has declined membership to the union but is still required to pay monthly “agency fees” in order to keep his job. This fee is meant to support political activity and other events or cases that are handled by the union. Janus’ argument is that being required to pay these fees goes against his First Amendment rights to free political speech and is therefore unconstitutional. The counter-argument by AFSCME is that if people need the union to support them in any problems with employers, and that person has not paid fees, the union is still required to represent them meaning that the union would only take losses in money. This case would mean the limiting to most of the powers and money currently held by unions.
The main stake of this case is that currently unions are the biggest spenders when it comes to lobbying for acts/politicians that will benefit and support employees/union members. If the Supreme Court sides with Janus, then the amount of money that unions raise will drop dramatically because they could no longer force their members to pay compulsive fees. In New Jersey, 1 out of 5 political dollars that are spent are spent by the New Jersey Education Association; deciding in the favor of Janus would cause a major loss of unions’ political power to change legislature. Because of less union lobbying, politicians would make tougher decisions on pension plans, retirement and salary. Membership in the unions would decrease drastically and many employees would no longer be protected. The case is likely to be decided in Janus’ favor because of the Republican leaning majority in the Supreme court.
One of the main facets of a democracy is the ability to speak out against actions by the government that you disagree with. The protests, like the Working People’s Day of Action, are signs of an active democracy, however many are taking the actual case of Janus vs. AFSCME as an attempt to limit the political speech of workers. In “Why Civil Resistance Works” by Stephen and Chenoweth, they detail why non-violent methods are more effective in actual policy change than violent resistance campaigns. People and politicians are more likely to side with and support a nonviolent campaign. The teachers strike, a nonviolent protest in February 2018 against poor wages for teachers in Virginia, was successful and the governor promised to try to raise wages. A sign of a weakening of democracy is the idea that these protests could have no effect because of the political leanings of the Supreme Court. Because of the Republican majority in the court, many people are already giving up protesting or speaking out for the side of the unions. The judiciary is supposed to be a non-biased check who makes constitutional decisions, however its current non-independent nature makes the judiciary biased and possibly ineffective.
It is up to opinion, whether or not being forced to pay fees for a group to support a common interest is against one’s 1st amendment rights. The opinion held by many Democrats is that this has been a move by the Republicans to take away and limit the voices of union and union members so that they can quietly lower wages and demolish retirement plans. While this view may be truthful, it may also be an argument that solely is meant to demonize the Republicans through paranoia. Going through Chenoweth’s list of 10 effective ways for non-violent protest, the Working People’s Day of Action definitely had extremely large numbers for a single day protest, was entirely non-violent, and had a definitive message. However, it was still a single day and Janus v AFSCME has been forgotten by many people. They also participated in a protest that some would consider antiquated, they had very little presence online and were in a fairly empty, non-public area in downtown Columbus. I found the event the day before going because it was not advertised except on a random Facebook post which makes me think that if they had a bit more outreach they could have been more successful. None of this makes the protest less important in nature as many union members supported this and will continue to back their unions and protest whatever the outcome of the Janus decision. This day of protest makes it seem like democracy is still functioning (at least to some extent) in America.
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