When my family came back to the United States, the first good job my dad obtained was as a union hotel cook at the San Francisco Grand Hyatt. He got a living wage, regular hours, and healthcare benefits. This opportunity showed him that if he worked hard, dedicated himself, and demonstrated initiative and passion, his family too could live the American dream.
With my dad’s job as a union hotel cook he supported our family of four. With his modest wages, my family was able to rent tiny Sunset District in-laws and remain in San Francisco. His union healthcare benefits let my family have access to a doctor through the Chinese Community Health Plan – benefits we could not otherwise afford. Local 2 held SAT classes that I attended at their office, which helped me get into college.
The opportunities the union gave my family exemplified that the eternal optimism of the American dream can be true for working families. The voice and opportunity that my dad received from being a part of the union gave us the chance to move up.
On February 26, the United States Supreme Court began hearing a court case that is expected to result in the decimation of the American dream to families just like mine. In Janus vs. AFSCME, a 5 to 4 conservative majority of the Supreme Court is expected to rule a decision that would eliminate millions of workers from having their shot at the American Dream.
At issue in Janus vs. AFSCME is whether public sector workers represented by a union can be required to contribute their fair share of fees for bargaining on their behalf with the employer. In a 1977 Supreme Court precedent that Janus vs. AFSCME threatens to overturn, Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education ruled that public sector unions could collect mandatory dues for bargaining on behalf of workers because unions are required to bargain for all represented workers. Janus argues that all public sector collective bargaining is inherently political and fees to pay for representation would violate the first amendment.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Janus, working Americans will be hurt. By dismantling the revenue base of labor unions, movements to raise the minimum wage, enact workplace and consumer protections, and implement better social and public services (which are largely driven and funded by labor unions) will be handicapped.
This evisceration of opportunity for people to stay and get into the middle class has been a decades-long project by corporate interests, who gain from the erosion of power of working people. They will not stop here. We must find new and innovative ways to fight back. Some organizations are utilizing ballot initiatives to level the playing field through direct democracy. Others are creating worker membership organizations without formal bargaining rights. Whatever we do, we must not rest, because the other side will not.
Alan Wong is a union organizer, veteran, and San Francisco native. His dad is still a proud UNITE HERE Local 2 member.
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