President's Corner

September 2018 Attempts to Divide Us Have Made Us Stronger

Read Full Article

President’s Corner

Earlier this summer, I provided members some background and clarification of the controversial Janus v. AFSCME decision issued by the Supreme Court in late June. The decision created a national “right-to-work” policy in the public sector, allowing workers to benefit from union representation even if they choose to pay nothing to the union.

This case was a concern to everyone in organized labor, though its outcome was all but certain after President Trump’s appointee, Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed to the Supreme Court. The lawsuit was funded and argued by the Liberty Justice Center, the same shadow-funded organization we successfully took on in court for trying to pass a municipal “right-to-work” ordinance in Lincolnshire. Union-busters took delight in the decision, calling it a mortal wound in America’s union movement.

More than two months have passed since the decision, and we have had an opportunity to gauge its immediate impact upon our public employees. Remember that we represent more than 3,400 public employees, primarily employed as operating engineers in a public works setting.

Before this decision was issued, we had a total of 33 “fair-share” fee payers, or workers who are not members but pay Local 150 for the cost of their representation. This fee includes contract negotiations, grievance handling, and everything else the union provides, aside from the portion of dues that supports political activity.

In the days and weeks since Janus was issued, business representatives have had personal, face-to-face conversations with all of the “fair-share” payers, explaining to them the value of what Local 150 provides and encouraging them to upgrade to full membership. We’ve explained to these individuals that while Janus provided options to them, it also provided new options to us.

The Janus decision offered unions the ability to charge free-riders reasonable costs for representation or withhold representation entirely. This strengthens the position that we have held for nearly a year: if a worker chooses to pay nothing to this union, we will exercise every tool at our disposal to provide as little to that free-rider as possible.

We simply will not tolerate individuals who do not value this union freeloading off of our members. To that end, we filed a lawsuit in February to relieve our union from any obligation to provide any representation to free-riders. Judging from the response that I received from my previous article and from the attendees at July’s General Membership Meeting, this is a position with which our members overwhelmingly agree.

As of August 15th, seven employees have stated their intention to pay nothing to the union, and instead become free-riders, who benefit from union representation that is paid for by the contributions of others. Eleven other members, however, chose to upgrade to full membership.

In actual numbers, Janus’ impact on Local 150 has thus far been small, but it has brought our municipal members together like nothing else I have ever seen. In this edition of the Engineer, you’ll see several photos of groups displaying their pride of being 100 percent union. Union membership has taken on new importance in the public sector, and in remembering the value of what we receive as union members, we’re holding our Brothers and Sisters accountable.

Union membership has never been something to take for granted, and we’ve reminded these municipal groups that if multiple workers within a bargaining unit choose to go “free-rider,” we will have to consider walking away from that group altogether. “Free-riders” will have to answer to dedicated members who do not want to lose their representation because one or two people are looking to save a few dollars and take advantage of their colleagues.

From the contracts we negotiate and the representation that we provide, to the healthcare and retirement benefits that we secure for our families, union membership has tremendous value. As I reported at the General Membership Meeting, that value is increasing with the introduction of new “members only” benefits.

We have joined with several other large unions totaling more than 100,000 members to create the Midwest Coalition of Labor (MCL). By joining our members together, the MCL unions have been able to use our greater purchasing power to get the lowest prices possible on various new benefits, which allows us to provide them to members at no cost.

This month, you’ll receive a booklet detailing these new “members only” benefits and information on how to enroll or register for various benefits. You can also visit www.coalitionoflabor.org.

These benefits are top-quality from the best providers in the industry, so use them!

To start, active, working members will receive $10,000 in free life insurance from Voya, with the option to purchase up to $160,000 in additional insurance at the lowest rates you’ll find anywhere, and with no medical exam or questionnaires. Being employed in construction makes it tough to qualify for life insurance, so this is a no-brainer. The coalition also provides $5,000 in free Accidental Death & Dismemberment insurance from Voya, which covers accidents at work or at home that result in death, paralysis, loss of limbs, or loss of hearing or vision, with the option to purchase up to $160,000 in additional coverage at the lowest rates. Again, these two insurance benefits are only available to active, working members.

All members and immediate families will receive free and reduced-price legal services through the Union Legal Services program. From traffic stops and criminal matters to divorces and immigration issues, this program will provide many free and flat-rate legal services without the hassle of looking for a lawyer. Attorneys and retired judges will be available to answer legal questions, and there is a 24/7 hotline for criminal matters.

Members will also receive free identity recovery coverage from The Hartford. If you find yourself in a position where your identity has been compromised, The Hartford will work with banks, credit agencies and other financial institutions to help correct your credit records. Additionally, you’ll receive up to $25,000 in coverage for legal fees, $5,000 in coverage for lost wages, and $1,000 in coverage for miscellaneous out-of-pocket expenses. Most importantly though, you’ll have experienced professionals to advise you on who to call to stop the identity theft and put you on a road to recovery.

Allstate Roadside Assistance is included in the free member benefits as well. This is a full automotive club membership that covers members, spouses and dependents with free towing, flat tire assistance, jumpstarts, fuel delivery and lockout assistance. It also provides savings at more than 350,000 auto repair vendors, restaurants, retail stores, hotels, and other businesses through the Allstate Access to Savings program.

Being a union member also makes you eligible for savings through Union Plus, which has negotiated discounts on almost anything you can imagine, from vacations to cell phone plans to movie tickets. You can also get discounted subscription rates on the Chicago Sun-Times, which Local 150 invested in to protect the voice of working people.

As a member, you’ll also be eligible for our scholarship program, which has grown every year since its inception, as well as membership in our credit union. The credit union is owned by account holders, and therefore offers more attractive terms and rates than any bank. Existing credit union account holders will also be glad to know that we’ve joined the Allpoint ATM network, so you’ll now have access to 55,000 free ATMs in places like Target, Walgreens, CVS, and many others.

Creating this coalition is an innovative effort that has attracted attention all over the nation. As new unions sign on, the growing membership will allow us to reduce costs and add new benefits.

One important change has been made to our Retiree Welfare Plan (RWP). The Trustees voted last month that in addition to other RWP requirements, any retirees after January 1, 2019 must be dues-paying members in good standing when they retire and maintain that membership for themselves and their eligible dependents to qualify for retiree healthcare. If a member elects to become a free-rider in a selfish act shortly before retirement, that individual and all eligible dependents will no longer qualify for healthcare through the RWP.

The Janus decision was an attack meant to weaken unions and divide us against each other, but it has created new pride among our members and built solidarity. As we’ve seen in political attacks in recent years, our opponents have taken things too far, poked us one too many times, and succeeded only in bringing us together to fight back with renewed strength.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall.