Generations of Pennsylvanians have built better lives here in our commonwealth because of the work unions have done to improve working conditions, increase economic security, and ensure workers are treated fairly.
But this week, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear opening arguments on Janus v. AFSCME, a case that could take our nation backwards by undoing this progress.
The case aims to reverse the work done by school workers, sanitation workers, teachers, mine workers, carpenters, telecommunications workers, nurses, firefighters, law enforcement and many more to make sure they had the opportunity to work together and improve their conditions and pay.
As this case attempts to take us backwards, we must charge in the opposite direction and make the economy work for all Pennsylvania. If the Janus case is decided against workers, they could lose the right to have their voices heard in their workplace.
This doesn’t just impact unions.
Unions have done more than protect their own members: They have consistently raised health and safety and wage standards for everyone. When unions are strong and workers are heard, everyone benefits. And when workers are silenced, we just have to look to recent history to see how it impacts all families.
Our nation is not far removed from a time when workers died by the thousands each year in industrial accidents. Children as young as four were put to work in factories. This is not ancient history or an abstraction. This was the reality of our grandparents and their parents who sometimes gave their lives, or their children’s lives.
Today, American children do not work in factories, deaths on the job are thankfully rare, and 15 hour days are no longer the norm. But we did not get here by accident. Our workplaces are better, fairer, and safer because unions fought for all of us.
Unfortunately, for special interests that are driven by profits, Janus v. AFSCME is part of decades-long effort to destroy unions. Special interest groups have formed throughout the country with the goal of weakening unions, and making it easier for their donors to make money at the expense of working families.
Janus v. AFSCME is just the next step in their efforts to make it more difficult for all workers to be heard, paid fairly, or treated with respect. Instead of seeking to destroy unions, our efforts should focus on growing them
We need unions because the American Dream—once a promise for those who work hard and play by the rules—has become elusive for far too many Americans. The pathway to the middle class provided by unions has never been more important. A recent study by researchers at Harvard, Wellesley and the Center for American Progress, finds that children born to low-income families are much more likely to raise themselves into the middle class in areas where the union membership is higher. The study also finds that not only does more union membership secure the wages necessary to raise a family; unions prove effective at helping all workers.
Here in Pennsylvania we are going to fight for working families. That means pushing for policies that benefit all working people like raising the minimum wage, sick days and education funding. It also means fighting for the right to organize and join a union that will make sure your voice is heard.
A living wage and strong unions for workers will allow our economy to grow and strengthen Pennsylvania’s middle class. As the Supreme Court hears this case, we will do everything in our power to make sure Pennsylvanians can join together to fight for the good, union jobs our communities need.
Tom Wolf is governor of Pennsylvania. Jim Kenney is mayor of Philadelphia. Bill Peduto is mayor of Pittsburgh.