Today the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a lawsuit that seeks to prevent public sector workers from joining together in unions. The lives of 8 million individuals represented by public sector unions are on the line. Unions give workers a powerful voice to speak up for themselves, their families and their communities. That power is now under attack.
Public sector jobs are disproportionately women’s jobs. Women make up a majority — 56% — of union-represented public sector workers. Public sector union employees are nurses, first responders, teachers and other professionals crucial to the health, safety and prosperity of our communities. And women of color are the backbone of these unions. This case is an effort to gag their voices.
Women of color — Native American, Latina, Black and API women — are the majority of public sector union members. Unions give us the ability to fight racism and sexism. They create collective bargaining power, pay standardization and transparency, and discrimination protections, helping correct the gender and race-based pay gaps women of color experience. Women in the public sector who are represented by unions make 15% more — $6,500 more annually — than those who are not.
For queer women of color, unions have increasingly been a backstop against discrimination. In 30 states, it’s still legal to discriminate against LGBTQ employees. But unions have fought for contracts that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and are increasingly fighting for protections around gender identity.
The attack we’re seeing in Janus is part of a larger strategy to shift the terms of debate around workers’ rights in our country. The Far Right forces behind Janus are the same forces pushing to limit abortion access, gut voting rights, target immigrants and undermine civil rights protections. Today we call on our elected leaders to reject this attack and fight for the good union jobs our communities need.
Kalpana Krishnamurthy, National Field and Policy Director