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Working people must stand with unions against political attacks

While a major setback, union leaders say the Janus ruling will energize their locals to fight harder to prove the value of public sector collective bargaining. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images file photo

The Janus v. AFSCME case is all about breaking the unions that represent public service workers like me. For 25 years I’ve been a proud member of AFSCME in Cook County’s Office of the Public Guardian, where we’re court-appointed to represent disabled adults or juveniles who are wards of the state.

OPINION

And it’s not just us. Nationwide, the court’s 5-4 decision is a direct assault on every educator who teaches our kids, every firefighter who protects us, the nurses who care for us and the sanitation workers who pick up our trash.

By coming together in strong unions, public service workers like me have a voice. We speak up together for ourselves, our families and the communities we serve.

When we have a voice through our unions, the people we serve have a voice through us.

But the powerful interests behind the Janus case, like Bruce Rauner and the Koch brothers, are trying to push down working people in order to take more money and power for themselves.

They’re the same crowd that’s using voter-suppression tactics to make it harder for everyone to vote, tilting the political system further in their favor.

The Rauner-funded Illinois Policy Institute used its litigation arm, the Liberty Justice Center, to bring this case. The IPI’s national parent, the State Policy Network, said Janus is intended to “defund and defang” unions like ours, allowing the right-wing to “strike a mortal blow” at working people’s movements and the elected officials who represent us.

Now a 5-4 ideological majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has sided with their attempt to weaken our unions. They want to make it easier to drive down middle class wages, cut funding for public services and schools, privatize and outsource jobs.

View this document on ScribdWe know what’s coming next. The state Policy Network is planning an $80 million marketing assault on our members, trying to trick them into quitting the union. What they don’t understand is that we’ll never quit on one another, just like we never quit on our communities and the public services we provide.

I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but I’m an optimistic kind of guy. I think we’re going to get through this and be a stronger union for it.

Our local is 100 percent membership. We’ve always stood strong, and by staying strong we’ve been able to stop a lot of bad things from happening, like layoffs or pension cuts. The average union member understands that. Everybody is all-in.

But we can’t do it alone. This is a wake-up call to everyone who wants a more just, equitable society: If unions fall, all working people will be set back. And strong unions are especially important for women and people of color.

If Bruce Rauner, the IPI and the other powerful interests behind Janus can get away with dismantling our unions, they won’t stop here. If they get rid of us, they’ll go after the rest of what’s left of the middle class.

Phil Cisneros works for the Cook County Office of the Public Guardian and is the president of AFSCME Local 3969. He lives in Chicago.

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DISCLOSURE NOTE: Some unions have ownership stakes in Sun-Times Media, including the Chicago Federation of Labor; Operating Engineers Local 150; SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana and SEIU Local 1.