U.S. News


Workers’ Rights & Labor Unions: What’s the Connection?

It should be evident to anyone observing the current administration that those currently governing our nation care little about corporate oversight; rather than implementing more laws, they would be happy if our legal system were dismantled. The current union labor-related case being considered by the Supreme Court is Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31 — concerning whether Abood v. Detroit Board of Education should be overruled.

Basically, the current case asks if all employees represented by a union should be required to pay union dues — whether they are part of the union or not. In many ways, this quandary resembles that of the ACA and the question of mandated insurance payments. In theory, more competition should drive down prices. But it’s not all as simple as that, of course.

Healthcare regulations — as with union dues-related regulations — exist for a reason. Employers — especially large, multinational corporations — don’t historically have the best interests of their employees in mind. Fair wage increases, affordable healthcare, conflict-resolution procedures — those are all benefits historically earned through the hard work of union negotiations. For example, the current wave of public teacher walkouts, are, according to some, a backlash against years of far-right economic policy.

Unions will help inform you of your rights and benefits in the event of an accidental injury at work. Moreover, beyond the traditional image of a manufacturing worker from the Midwest, “About two-thirds (65.4 percent) of workers age 18 to 64, covered by a union contract, are women and/or people of color,” according to the Economic Policy Institute. One big benefit of belonging to a union is that union members will argue for rights like overtime pay and health benefits, in addition to benefits like continuing education programs related to job duties.

Take, for example, LIUNA’s continuing education programs related to construction labor laws which connects members to a degree and certificate programs. Occasionally, employers like Starbucks will sponsor post-secondary continuing education degree programs for their employees that are completely unrelated to their job duties — but this is rare. Until more employers do this kind of sponsorship on their own volition, it will take labor unions and government regulation to change corporate policy.

Because the United States is currently experiencing “full employment,” it may be more of a challenge to argue for the necessity of union representation in court. However, there seems to be what has been called a “blue wave” sweeping the nation — in part because of increasing awareness that conservative policies like trickle-down economics don’t work. Cities like Seattle are successfully piloting the new $15 minimum wage which has not harmed business thus far.

As long as workplace safety continues to be an issue for many professions, labor unions will remain vital to employee safety and human rights — especially in light of the recent news that the U.S. is leaving the UN Human Rights Council. The rights of all workers — whether members of unions or asylum-seekers — are potentially in dire straits unless we speak out against the human rights abuses at the border, as well as within our own borders and workplaces.

Sadly, international law is likely going to become more telling, in terms of current violations of human rights, than is U.S. law. As Lee Swepston argues, “…International advice and research must be taken into account at the national level if it is to be effective.” If you’d like to learn more about how to get involved with labor unions, nationwide, check out these organizations: