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Congressman Bobby Scott

Representing the 3rd District of Virginia


January 29, 2018
Floor Statements

 Mr. SCOTT of Virginia.  Mr. Speaker, unions empower workers with the freedom to negotiate for a fair return on their work and they provide a collective voice to advocate for policies that benefit working people. 

   Union workers, including those in the public sector, have more access to paid leave, medical and retirement benefits, and higher pay than workers who are not unionized. Children of union members experience more upward mobility than children of workers who are not covered with union contracts, and States with higher union density have stronger workplace protections. 

   There is a long history of unions helping the least powerful secure dignity on the job. This is the 50th anniversary of the Memphis sanitation workers' strike in 1968. After two workers were crushed in garbage compactors, the Memphis sanitation workers peacefully protested for better pay and safer working conditions. They sought representation from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME. They marched with placards that simply stated: ``I am a man.'' 

   Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., long recognized that the fight for civil rights was fundamentally linked to economic justice and he gave his last public address before his assassination on behalf of these workers. 

   Despite police brutality and the deployment of 4,000 National Guardsmen, the strike was ultimately successful and AFSCME negotiated higher wages and safer conditions. 

   The unions representing the workers in the public sector continue to empower our workers and communities today. Just this month, when temperatures plunged to dangerous lows, the Baltimore Teachers Union fought for children who were forced to bundle up in coats and hats

   in their own classrooms because there was no heat in their schools. 

   Around the country, the SEIU represented hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers who provide in-home healthcare for our Nation's elderly and disabled. In many States, these workers are State employees, and the unions play a crucial role in bargaining for better wages, better training, and in advocating for increased Medicaid funding so they can deliver services to the disabled and the elderly. 

   Despite the great work these unions have done on behalf of working people, they are constantly under attack by corporate interests determined to cripple the labor movement, and we know why. 

   Big corporations and the top 1 percent have rigged our economy against working people. They have gamed the system, including our tax laws, to redistribute wealth to a select few. They have starved our economy of investments in education, infrastructure, and housing. 

   The campaign to weaken unions has contributed to extreme income inequality and wage stagnation, as smaller and smaller shares of corporate earnings are paid in wages. 

   The latest of these attacks is happening in the Supreme Court. On February 26, the Court will hear oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, on the question of whether or not to overturn 40 years of precedence affirming the principle that public employees who choose not to join a union may be required to pay a fair share fee to cover the costs of collective bargaining and contract enforcement. 

   In 1977, the Supreme Court ruled in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that fair share States may authorize the payment of fair share fees to support unions' collective bargaining on behalf of employees. The Court found that the fair share fees are constitutional under the First Amendment because they support collective bargaining, not political activities. 

   This practice fosters States' interests in preventing labor disputes, cures the free rider problem of employees benefiting from union representation while shifting the costs to their coworkers, and improves the delivery of services by State and local governments. 

   In Janus, the plaintiffs want to overturn laws in 23 States and the District of Columbia that now require public sector workers who decide not to be members of the union to pay a fair share fee. These workers enjoy all of the benefits of the union: higher wages, safer workplaces, effective grievance procedures. 

   In these fair share States today, public and private employees who do not want to join a union may be required to pay their fair share for expenses for services required by law, not political, but the services required by law to benefit all workers. 

   Janus seeks to overturn that law and allow people to benefit from all of those services without paying their fair share. 

   The challenge to the long-serving precedence is the latest move by corporate interests to weaponize the First Amendment against working people. We have seen it before in Citizens United, which used freedom of speech in the First Amendment to justify virtually unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns. 

   Here in the House of Representatives, we frequently see similar antiunion attacks dedicated to weakening the labor movement's ability to function as an advocate for working people and as a counterweight to corporate power. 

   Whether in the Supreme Court or here in Congress, the campaign to weaken unions is a campaign to strip workers of their most basic protections. This is why it is crucial for Congress to defend against any attacks to undermine workers' freedom to negotiate for better wages and better working conditions. 

   Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Georgia for organizing this Special Order.