CANTON, Mass – The U.S. Supreme Court today issued a 5-4 decision in a case bankrolled by corporate interests who want to rig the economic system further in their favor and make it even harder for working people, such as the public sector nurses and health care professionals, who are part of the Massachusetts Nurses Association to come together and speak up for each other and their patients.
“As a registered nurse who belongs to a strong union, I am able to advocate and care for people who are severely disabled and often have medical complications,” said Mike D'Intinosanto, a Winchendon resident, RN with the Department of Developmental Services and executive chair of the MNA’s public sector bargaining unit. “Without the high level of support my patients receive from public-sector workers, they would be unable to find employment or live in a community. My union empowers me to speak up for my patients, my community and working people.”
Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year and it affects public sector unions. The MNA represents about 2,000 public sector nurses and other health care professionals throughout Massachusetts, including mental health facilities, group homes and school districts. The objective of Janus is to divide and limit union members’ collective bargaining power. The case was funded by the National Right to Work Foundation, which is part of a network funded by corporate billionaires.
“I have dedicated my life to caring for vulnerable people and my union helps me do that to the best of my ability,” said Karen Coughlin, a Mansfield resident and registered nurse at Taunton State Hospital, part of the state Department of Mental Health. Coughlin is Vice President of the MNA Board of Directors. “I have the freedom to join with my colleagues to seek improvement in safe working conditions, wages, and protections for my patients. Having a strong union means my family and my community are stronger.”
The Janus ruling is a radical interpretation of the First Amendment and will make it more difficult for public workers to bargain collectively. By overturning 40 years of common sense jurisprudence in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the court eliminated non-members’ fair share fees, but unions are still required by law to represent them. As a result, some workers will be paying more than their fair share. This will make it harder for all public employees to provide services everyone depends on.
Hundreds of amicus briefs — representing all levels of government, public officials, civil rights organizations, academic experts, and others — were filed with the court in support of the respondents. Weighing in on the case have been 22 states and the District of Columbia, dozens of cities, Republican lawmakers, school districts and public hospitals, all rising in support of the value fair share fees provide in terms of the effective management of public services.
“Unions are the best way to level the playing field for working people, and that’s why they have come under attack,” said RN D'Intinosanto. “It’s time for our elected leaders to be loud and clear that they support the freedom of working people to come together in unions and that they will work hard to do everything they can to make it easier for people to do so.”
Facts about unions from the Economic Policy Institute:
- Nearly half (48.1 percent) of union workers are public-sector workers. Collective bargaining among federal workers is covered by the Federal Labor Relations Act of 1978. State laws govern state and local government employee unions.
- Union workers are diverse. About two-thirds (65.4%) of workers age 18 to 64 covered by a union contract are women and/or people of color. More than half (54.5%) have an associate degree or more education.
- Union workers earn more. On average, a union worker earns 13.2% more than a nonunionized peer with similar education, occupation, and experience.
- Unions help raise women’s pay. Hourly wages for women represented by unions are 9.2% higher on average than for nonunionized women.
- Union workers are more likely to have health insurance. 94% of union workers have access to employer health benefits, compared with 67% of nonunion workers.
- Union workers have greater access to paid sick days. 87% of union workers have access to paid sick days, compared with 69% of nonunion workers.
- Unions are good for workers’ retirement security. 90% of union workers participate in a retirement plan, compared with 75% of nonunion workers.
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.