The Fight Is On Post-Janus

In the long fight for a better life for working people, the Supreme Court’s decision this summer in Janus v. AFSCME dealt a devastating blow to workers across the nation. In short, the Janus decision means that non-members of public sector unions no longer have to pay fair-share fees, even though they reap the benefits of public unions’ work. The consequences of this decision will reach far beyond workers’ paychecks and job schedules. For the LGBT community, threats to civil rights may even be on the horizon.

Since the ‘70s, unions have amplified the voices and fought for the rights of LGBT people. Unions have secured benefits and protections for queer and gender-nonconforming workers, even in states where local laws leave the door open for discrimination. And unions have negotiated benefits for unmarried “spouse-equivalent” partners, and banned harassment for employees who have gender confirmation surgery. But post-Janus, all those gains are at risk—not to mention that workers from LGBT communities, like workers everywhere, will now have a harder time earning a living wage. That’s especially concerning for trans workers, who are almost four times as likely as cis people to live on less than $10,000 per year.

On top of it all, weaker unions mean that fewer LGBT workers can use grievance procedures when they do experience discrimination. In a labor market flush with arbitration agreements—meaning that workers have to settle any workplace complaints out of court—grievance procedures are one of the best tools to fight mistreatment. And anything that threatens that tool threatens workers themselves, especially the most vulnerable among us.

Conservative groups supported Janus because they know what we know: Unions give employees a voice, and weakening unions means silencing working people. So the Supreme Court’s decision has forced workers everywhere, and especially LGBT workers, to make their own decision. Will we sit back and watch our rights get trampled or stand up, speak up, and fight back?

We may be down, but we’re never out. None of the above is set in stone, because if we decide to band together, we can keep our union strong. Our OUTreach group gives LGBT union members the chance to raise their voices and have each others’ backs. If union members show up and demand that their rights be recognized, then stingy or prejudiced employers don’t stand a chance. You have a say in this story. All it takes is action—powered by members like you.

Interested in being a part of OUTreach? Contact Jean Tong or call 213-201-7120 to get involved today.

A Ray of Hope for Unions

At a moment when union membership has plummeted to historic lows across the nation, Las Vegas’ Culinary Union 226 is beating the odds and proving that working people who get organized get more, even in the most hostile environment.

For 65 years, the deck has been stacked against unions in Nevada, a right-to-work state where workers are not obligated to pay dues, even when represented by a union. At the same time, Local 226 (known around town as “the Culinary”) is not only surviving, but thriving. Today, membership stands 57,000 workers strong, with 95 percent of workers voluntarily contributing full dues.

How have they done it? The secret to the Culinary’s success is no secret at all. A union succeeds when members take the future into their own hands. Organizing and taking action increases participation and benefits for all. Take Richard Blair, a Las Vegas kitchen worker recently featured in the Huffington Post:

When Richard Blair, 63, was working in a kitchen at the Dunes in the 1980s, he didn’t even know he had a shop steward. But as the union transformed into a more bottom-up operation over the years…members like Blair have become the driving force. He is now a shop steward at the MGM Grand and says he has been arrested five times at Culinary protests over the years. Nearly every worker on his list of 20 is a dues-paying member: “everyone but that one guy on swing shift,” said Blair.

Strong connections and active involvement from members—helping co-workers settle grievances, registering voters, picketing hostile employers, and more—has lifted the tide for workers across Las Vegas’ booming hospitality industry. With members willing to take action, the Culinary has negotiated better pay, better contract provisions, and better benefits. From the same Huffington Post article:

According to the union, the average member earns $23 per hour in pay and benefits, including a generous health plan and an employer-funded pension. The union’s health fund offers family coverage with no monthly premium, and last year the union opened its first health clinic to serve members and their families. The housing program, which was created a decade ago through a collective bargaining agreement with the casinos, has shelled out more than $4 million toward down payments and closing costs.

People across the union, from shop stewards to the union’s own former president, credit these benefits with the steady and passionate involvement of rank-and-file members.

We’ve never viewed right-to-work as a hindrance,” said D. Taylor [former president of the Cuilnary]. “Workers are getting screwed whether they’re in right-to-work states or not. You have to have a constant organizing presence and you have to change the culture of your union. It has to be run by great rank-and-file leaders.”

The lesson is clear: when we stand together, we create a better future for our families. The time is now to take action if we’re going to fight back against those who want to roll back dignity and democracy for working people. As Las Vegas cocktail server and shop steward Monie Stewart-Cariaga said: “I appreciate the people who did this before me. I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”

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