The day honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has passed, but unions and activists will continue to honor him in February.
This week, labor and religious leaders and civil rights and women’s rights groups announced a nationwide day of action set for Feb. 24. Known as the Working People’s Day of Action, activists will mobilize and call for an end to policies that lift up the rich at the expense of the working class.
“Dr. King made the ultimate sacrifice supporting union rights. He believed that union rights were civil rights, and that all working people deserved dignity,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement. “I have no doubt that Dr. King would fully support all our efforts to defend working people against the assaults on our freedoms by special interest groups like those behind the Janus Supreme Court case.”
The day of action is set to take place just days before oral arguments begin in the Supreme Court for Janus v. AFSCME: the case that could decide the fate of unions across the country.
In the Janus v. AFSCME case, a lone state employee (plaintiff Mark Janus) is challenging having to pay union dues for public-sector unions. Janus and two other Illinois state employees believe that mandatory union dues violate their First Amendment rights. Under current law, every union-represented public sector worker has the choice to not join a union, but is still required to pay dues on behalf of the union, which negotiates their salaries and benefits.
The Freedom Foundation, a pro-free enterprise nonprofit, submitted two amicus curiae briefs supporting the petitioner in December. The case is being bankrolled by pro-business outlets the National Right to Work Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center (the Illinois Policy Institute’s litigation wing).
“Working people are rising up against this attack and will stick together no matter what,” said Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry in a statement. “Our nation’s leaders should make it easier to join together and use our power in numbers, not more difficult. America needs more good, union jobs that provide financial security for families and strengthen our communities.”
Some labor unions and activists are getting started before the national day of action. On Feb. 12, the 50th anniversary of the Memphis sanitation strike, thousands of cooks and cashiers will walk off the job in the hopes of securing a $15 minimum wage and the right to organize. The protest will culminate with a march from Clayborn Temple to Memphis City Hall mimicking the same route sanitation workers used when they walked off the job in 1968.
This Wednesday, union leaders and members of SEIU, American Federation of Teachers, AFSCME and the National Education Association held a briefing where they detailed work against corporations looking to push back on labor union gains. While the leaders fight the battle in court, others will take it to the streets.
“Good public sector jobs have provided countless families, especially Black women, with the ability to sustain themselves and shape their futures,” said Black Youth Project National Director Charlene Carruthers in a statement. “Across the country, working people will be mobilizing against the wealthy and powerful forces rigging the rules in their favor. Communities will be in the streets demanding investments in our communities and divestments from systems that don’t serve us.”