June 27, 2018

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UUP vows strength and solidarity in face of Janus

uupdate 6-26-18

CLICK HERE to read UUP's media release on Janus

CLICK HERE to read joint media release by AFT, AFSCME, NEA and SEIU on Janus

A U.S. Supreme Court decision intended to destroy public-sector unions like UUP will instead strengthen them, UUP President Fred Kowal said following the court’s June 27 decision that overturned agency fees in the case of Janus vs. AFSCME Council 31.

The conservative-led court voted 5-4 along predictable lines for plaintiff, Mark Janus, who claimed that paying fair share fees for union representation violated his First Amendment rights. The suit was bankrolled by the National Right to Work Foundation and the right-wing Liberty Justice Center.

“We were prepared for this decision, given the warning signs we have seen with this court on other cases involving employee working conditions, gerrymandered voting districts and the rights of management over those of working people,” Kowal said. “We can do nothing about the fact that a stolen Supreme Court seat that should have been filled by a moderate appointment during Barack Obama’s presidency tipped the balance in this landmark decision, which overturns longstanding precedent that upheld agency fees. But we can, and we will, come out of this much stronger as a union.”

Kowal referred to the Supreme Court vacancy filled by Donald Trump’s appointee Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to hold any hearings on the vacancy until after the 2016 presidential election.

UUP began preparations two years ago to function without agency fees. Under the agency fee system, members of the bargaining unit who have never signed a membership card have been required to pay fees in lieu of dues, in exchange for the union’s obligation to represent them during negotiations and disciplinary proceedings.

Kowal urged anyone with questions about the Janus decision to call UUP’s statewide office at 518-640-6678 and ask to speak with an officer or UUP staff member. The line will be answered by a live person--and not a recording--between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

"Today's decision is a rallying cry for organized labor," Kowal said. "Teachers, firefighters, police officers, 911 operators, and all public service workers are determined to stick together and remain union. Labor will survive this vicious attack, perpetrated by corporate CEOs and ultra-rich elites to break the backs of unions and rob working families of the ability to speak out and bargain collectively. This ruling will only make us stronger."

An open invitation to all

“If you are already a member of this great union, then the other officers, the statewide Executive Committee and I sincerely thank you, whether you’ve been a member for years, or just signed a union card yesterday,” Kowal said. “To those who have wavered about joining, I urge you to consider what union membership can offer you.

"We welcome everyone in our bargaining unit, where there is room for diverse opinions and ideas, and a shared goal of giving each and every member the best working conditions and benefits possible, through a democratic system that starts with the chapter leadership and extends to statewide elections," he continued. "We welcome you, and we want to work with all of you.”

CLICK HERE to sign up online to become a member of UUP.

UUP’s effort to send that message began with a system-wide campaign nearly two years ago to reach every person in the bargaining unit who had never signed a membership card. Chapters began mapping their campuses, to learn where small pockets of employees worked in such diverse locations, or under such unusual schedules, that they might never have even spoken with anyone from their UUP chapter.

Statewide, national help

UUP’s statewide and national affiliates, NYSUT and AFT, lent their training expertise to UUP so that squadrons of new young leaders in each chapter could work on membership issues. UUP hired seven organizers earlier this year and assigned each one to a region. Other efforts included the development of a social media squad to mobilize members on breaking news stories and issues; the hiring of a statewide director of organizing, and the intensive training of a group of members on the best way to hold one-to-one conversations with their colleagues about the union.

The statewide UUP office also conducted a series of listening sessions that invited members at a number of chapters to participate in frank discussions about what the union meant to them.

Through it all, the UUP Negotiations Team worked to secure a contract with solid benefits. The union and the state reached a tentative agreement with several breakthrough benefits in late May, and Kowal and the other officers are visiting each chapter to explain the contract prior to ratification vote Sept. 5.

“This is a difficult time for unions, but it’s also a time when we can demonstrate strength in the face of adversity,” Kowal said. “I am optimistic about the future of UUP, as all of us should be. We will remain strong, and we will succeed beyond the wildest expectations of those who would see us falter and fail. That will never happen. Not now, not ever.”

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