Concerns on the Future of Unions


Nuzat Zaman

Tenzi Zhouga ’19 expresses her thoughts about unions.

Unions throughout history have provided negotiation platforms between union members and the businesses that employs the members for better working conditions and other benefits. Improvements in working conditions have shown benefits in the health of workers, through complementary health care access and the promotion of healthy behaviors that often accompany a union membership. Furthermore, the improved health results are a significant influence on the living conditions of the working class. Unions also promote education in their support of living conditions.

Although the history of unions can easily be traced to providing workers throughout America with shorter working hours, healthcare, and opposing manipulative corporations, the membership rate has declined from 20% in 1983 to 12.4% in 2008. This decreasing trend in membership rate has continued, especially due to the current Supreme Court case: Janus vs. AFSCME. The Supreme Court case regarding the constitutionality of unions charging non-union members for ‘freeloading,’ which is not participating in the union, has resulted in the questioning of the benefits and the necessity of unions.

Some people believe that unions are beneficial overall and should continue to be the bridge between workers and businesses. “Unions have proven to benefit the working class in the past with the changes that they have made. The issues they have resolved shape the work environment that we function in today, whether it be clean schools for students, or manageable work hours,” said Tenzi Zhouga ’19.

“The change that unions have created in the past and the possible changes unions may make in the future highlight why unions are necessary and desirable,”

However, other people have different opinions about the union, especially about workers paying agency fees to the union regardless of whether they are union members or not.

The same issue was heard at the Supreme Court two years ago, but due to a split in decision between the judges and no swing vote by the last judge to decide, the same issue was introduced to the Supreme Court by Mark Janus, an Illinois state worker, who believes that his First Amendment rights, the rights of freedom of speech and association, are violated by the agency fees that he is forced to pay whether he is a union member or not. The majority of public union political activities have aided the Democratic and Working Families parties. Therefore, workers like Mark Janus feel pressured to agree with the platforms of the Democratic and Working Families parties due to the agency fees.

If the Supreme Court were to side with Janus, unions would experience severe detriments. There would be a major decline in union membership, and New York’s government unions alone could annually lose a maximum of $110 million just from agency fee revenues that were received from non union members.

The Supreme Court issue risks the loss of even more members over the idea about payments to the union whether or not one is a member. History has seen the decline of unions and the question of whether they are necessary any more arises. Although no final decision has yet been made in the Janus vs. AFSCME case yet, the results may drastically change government labor relations and state politics in New York and many other states that are a part of this case.