Two million workers can't be wrong

Gregory Floyd | 7/26/2018, 11 a.m.
New York is the most unionized state in the nation with nearly 2 million union workers. Although private sector unions ...
President, Teamsters Local 237

New York is the most unionized state in the nation with nearly 2 million union workers. Although private sector unions make up the largest number of those workers—17 percent compared with 6 percent nationwide—the real power of New York’s organized labor comes from the public sector, where nearly 70 percent are union members.

Clearly, New York’s unionized labor force gets it right: They know that membership has its advantages. In fact, last year, union membership actually grew by 75,000. They have found that annual wages of union members, on average, are $11,000 more than their nonunion counterparts. Union members are also far more likely to have job-provided health insurance and guaranteed pensions. And, in the misleadingly named “Right to Work States” such as Wisconsin, where required union membership is prohibited, workers’ wages are 12 percent lower and poverty rates are 15.3 percent higher than in the non-right-to-work states.

It’s no wonder that public approval of unions is also at its highest level since 2003, at 61 percent. This fact, however, is troubling to some people. Here’s why: A strong unionized labor force means a strong voice for principles that are repulsive to right-wing conservatives, who view unions as enablers of Democratic Party candidates and the progressive causes they overwhelmingly support. Recently, conservatives on the Supreme Court, by a 5 to 4 vote, overturned a 40-year-old precedent by ruling that compelling a worker to pay collective bargaining fees was unconstitutional and a violation of the First Amendment right of the plaintiff, AFSCME worker, Mark Janus. Justice Elena Kagan, writing on behalf of the dissenting justices, said, “There’s no sugarcoating today’s opinion. The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this nation’s law…(and) prevents the American people…from making important choices about their workplace governance.” She further criticized the ruling as “weaponizing the First Amendment.” With this ruling, it would appear that free-loaders could now get all the services provided by unions without paying their fair share.

But wait, not so fast: In New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo already took pre-emptive measures in April by signing into law safeguards to lessen the blow that the Janus decision could deliver to weaken unions. Among the features of the new law is that only dues-paying members are entitled to union representation in grievance hearings and disciplinary arbitration. Anyone considering opting out of union dues might think first of the cost of hiring legal counsel if they get into trouble or have a gripe with their employer. I was there when the governor the signed the bill and thought at the time that anyone who thinks that the 40-hour workweek, health benefits, vacation days and job safety requirements were always in place just doesn’t know history. Unions fought for these benefits and continue the struggle for worker fairness and dignity. We built the middle class in America and now big money interest groups want to steal it from our children. Workers need to decide who they are with: management or labor. And we need to fight back.

The signed bill and pen are proudly on display next to my office.

Gregory Floyd is president of Teamster Local 237 and vice president at-large on the General Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.