Labor, community are tackling our challenges

This Labor Day, we are bending the ‘arc of the moral universe’ toward justice



(Sept. 3, 2018) — Two months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned 41 years of labor law precedent with its Janus v. AFSCME decision, unions and the labor movement are healthy, growing, and working with community partners on strengthening our economy.

Although handfuls of public employees have opted not to pay any dues/fees for the services they receive from the unions that represent them, much to the chagrin of billionaire-funded organizations like the Freedom Foundation, workers are sticking with their unions.

Teachers in West Virginia, Kansas, Arizona and now here in Washington have struck for better wages and school funding. A couple hundred machinists in South Carolina organized with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, letting the Boeing Co. know that they can’t run away from workers wanting a voice at work. About 1,200 post-doctoral students at the University of Washington organized with the United Auto Workers Union. And the voters in red-state Missouri overwhelmingly defeated a “Right-to-Work” (for less) ballot proposition in August.

The hundreds of thousands of non-union workers in Missouri who voted down Proposition A, are reflective of the 61% of workers nationally who, according to the latest Gallup Poll, approve of unions and think unions ought to have more influence in our country. Fully 66% of workers aged 18-34 are supportive of unions.

In this age of extreme income inequality and climate disruption, what all these workers know is that no law, Supreme Court decision, politician, or right-wing funded campaigns will stop workers from coming together for a fair and just workplace or for economic, social, and climate justice in our communities.

As our economy spins further towards inequality, labor and our community partners have increasingly joined together to make the case for a $15 minimum wage, paid safe and sick leave, paid family leave, immigrant worker and refugee rights, immigration reform, an end to the indiscriminate killing and incarceration of black and brown men, an end to sexual harassment, protection of LGBTQ rights, and for climate justice and a “Just Transition” to a clean energy economy.

We need every voice in the effort to organize workers into unions and to rebuild the common good for strong and healthy communities.

We need to strengthen Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, not dismantle these safety net programs. We need to secure Medicare for All and universal, affordable long-term care. We need to modernize overtime pay rules and other labor laws to restore opportunities for people to have one job and afford to live in the city where they work. We need to rebuild our social and physical infrastructure. And we need to fight back against the fossil fuel industry and the ravages of climate change.

As western Washington faces the second year of smoke pollution from northern and eastern forest fires, ocean acidification continues to threaten our fishing industry, and sea level rise forces evacuations on the coast, we must call the question on the fossil fuel industry that continues to divide us with a false choice between jobs and the environment.

We can create a clean energy economy with good family-wage jobs and protect our environment. Initiative 1631, which is on the November ballot, gives us an opportunity to do just that. I-1631, through a modest carbon fee, leverages investments in clean energy, creates tens of thousands of good jobs across our state, and lowers carbon pollution creating cleaner air, water and forests for our children and grandchildren to enjoy. And it does this while being supportive of those communities and workers that are currently dependent on fossil fuel production for their livelihoods.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

I think he had it right. But our work as labor and community is to grab hold of that moral arc and bend it ever more towards justice.

Happy Labor Day to all, and thank you for the work you do.

Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 600 local unions and 450,000 rank-and-file union members.

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