‘Janus’ Stirs Philly Labor to Rally for Casey

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U.S. SEN. Bob Casey made the case to public-sector union leaders that he is 100% behind them in their resistance to Janus v. AFSCME. L-R, Hillary Linardopoulos, Gabe Morgan, Casey and Bonnee Breese Bentum.

BY TONY WEST
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) made an important pit stop in Philadelphia last week, visiting with a coalition of representatives from unions that represent public-sector employees.

They were reeling from the June 27 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME, which held that government workers are not required to contribute dues to unions that represent them. This outcome has long been sought after by conservatives, who see these unions as a well-funded counterweight to their desire to shrink government. Any step that cuts into these unions’ pocketbooks is a step in the right direction – for the right.

The meeting was hosted by SEIU by Local 32BJ Vice President Gabe Morgan. All present made clear they were all in for Casey, now running for re-election, who has taken strong pro-labor positions.

“I wouldn’t be in my office without the help of labor,” Casey said. “But you have to look at what they do for the country as well. If there were no unions, there would be no middle class.”

Wage growth has been flat in the United States for a generation, which Casey attributed directly to the decline of collective bargaining in the private sector. He promised to oppose that fate in the public sector.

That was music to Morgan’s ears. “If you cut the wages of teachers and cops, that is a death blow to the middle class,” he insisted.

Casey has lately taken some heat for announcing in advance he would oppose President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. But Casey stood firm: “I am not going to be complicit in a hard-right takeover of the Supreme Court. We have a corporate court as it is right now.”

Even though Democrats are a minority in the Senate, Casey said, they can sometimes win battles. In the latest budget vote, he noted, they won $300 million for Title 1 schools because the Republican leadership needed support from the D’s.

Sandra Dowling of 32BJ District 1201, which represents public-school workers, stated she was committed for the long haul. “I’m concerned about my grandchildren,” she told Casey. “I see you are about protecting families.”

“Janus should compel us to think what’s at stake in this election,” Casey replied. “This is really a long game for the Republicans; it’s about kneecapping Democrats.”

Older Philadelphia Federation of Teachers members face a demanding job educating younger members on the importance of unionizing, commented veteran Philadelphia teacher Bonnee Breese Bentum. “You must talk with them one on one and that takes a lot of time,” she said. “But good wages and jobs are connected to a good free public education. Without it, we’re doomed.”

Hillary Linardopoulos, an organizer for Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, excoriated Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for sending “junk emails” to schoolteachers on their school accounts. DeVos, an heiress who has no teaching degree or experience, has invested in a junk-science business that would treat ADHD with “brain waves,” Linardopoulos charged. Instead, she asserted, “PFT’s vision is focused on what children really need.”

Christopher Wood of NUHHCE District 1199C asked for help to see that more federal dollars trickle down to longterm-care workers.

Tom Cronin, a UFCW and AFSCME DC 47 retirees, complained that budget cutbacks hit retirees as well. “Why do they have to live with relatives in order to survive?” he cried. Casey replied he belongs to a Senate working group that is addressing this issue.

Morgan vowed that government unions would survive the onslaught by the right. Since Janus, he said, “We haven’t seen people dropping out. Instead, people are signing up.”

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