As a relatively new leader of a large public employee union in Minnesota, I have tried to pick the battles I thought were worth waging on behalf of our 11,500 members and their families — battles for fairness and security. I have tried to be fair and thoughtful over how public employees are viewed by the public in today’s political climate. I have tried to do what’s right by the Teamster public employees I represent and by all Minnesotans.
On Feb. 26, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the much-anticipated case, Janus vs. AFSCME, Council 31. The expected result of this case will change public sector unionism for Minnesota and for many other states where unions can collect fair-share fees.
It is my firm belief that the Supreme Court will overturn the 1977 Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education decision that upheld the rights of public sector unions to charge nonmembers in union-represented bargaining units agency fees for the cost of representation. If Abood is overturned, nonmembers will no longer be required to pay agency fees, yet unions must still represent nonmembers under our collective bargaining agreements.
I’m not going to argue the weakness of this case, or the potentially devastating consequences for collective bargaining, but I do want to illustrate to all Minnesotans the continued attack on public employees here and throughout the nation.
When I began my career as a juvenile correctional officer for Hennepin County in 1989, I knew it was a demanding and stressful job. This was at the height of the gang violence of the 1980s, and it was common to reach overcapacity for space in the detention center. But I also knew it was a job that I could raise my two children on and someday retire from with dignity. It wasn’t the most glamorous work, but it was necessary and meaningful for my community.
With the continued attack on public employees and the unions they belong to, I don’t know if I would become a correctional officer if I had to make that choice today. Public employees have unfairly become the scapegoat for conservative politicians who don’t want to reward good public service.
Take public employee pensions, for example. Some politicians at the Legislature are looking at alternatives to the defined benefit pension or traditional pension plan. The problem with this entire debate is that pensions are promises employers make to their employees in the form of deferred compensation. Public employees pay into their pensions through contributions to the plan. The vast majority of Minnesota’s public employees want a traditional pension plan, and that is why many forgo pay increases when state and local governments have to cut costs. We saw this play out during the 2008-2009 Great Recession, and things did not stabilize for most public employees until 2013-2014.
I became the principal officer of Minnesota Teamsters Public and Law Enforcement Employees’ Union Local 320 in 2012, after Act 10, with which Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took an ax to public sector unions and made it incredibly difficult for public employees of that state to negotiate working conditions.
Last year, the same type of action was taken in Iowa, where Republican Gov. Terry Branstad ended most collective bargaining rights for firefighters, teachers, and police and correctional officers.
The Janus vs. AFSCME, Council 31, case is nothing more than a national attempt to continue Walker’s legacy of public employee scapegoating. This, by the way, has not led to any substantial economic growth or investment for Wisconsin as promised. As the leader of our union, I am here to say that “enough is enough!”
We know here in Minnesota that when 911 dispatchers, firefighters, nurses, police officers and EMS workers belong to strong unions, those unions fight for staffing levels, equipment and training that save lives. We are ready to stand up for public employees and vital services. We are ready to fight this battle to keep good public sector jobs, because when union membership is high, entire communities enjoy greater social and economic stability. And by doing so, we will do what’s right for all Minnesotans!
Brian Aldes is the secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 320.