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Public Service Workers to Supreme Court: Don’t Silence Our Voices

Stephen Mittons (Photo by Naomi Brito)
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Public Service Workers to Supreme Court: Don’t Silence Our Voices
AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders

An AFSCME member from Illinois and union President Lee Saunders were joined today by other national union leaders and members at a news conference to discuss the stakes in the upcoming Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 – the latest attack on public service workers by deep-pocketed corporate interests.

Saunders and Stephen Mittons, a member of AFSCME Local 2081 (Council 31) in Chicago, were joined by President Lily Eskelsen García of the National Education Association (NEA), President Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and President Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The event took place at NEA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Bankrolled by CEOs and billionaires, the forces behind Janus seek to weaken the freedom of public service workers to join together in strong unions. Should they succeed, decades of settled law will be abolished in ways designed to harm our strength. Powerful CEOs and the politicians who do their bidding have already rigged the economy against working people and in favor of the wealthy and powerful. Those same CEOs are now asking the Supreme Court to make “right to work” the law of the land in the public sector.

“The billionaires behind this case have grown so used to getting their way in America that they haven’t even bothered to present any real argument to the court based on merit,” Saunders said. “If you look at the briefs they filed, it’s from the same old crony cabal, the same right-wing think tanks who have said they want to ‘defund and defang’ labor unions. They’re coming after us because they know that unions allow working people – especially women and people of color – to build better lives for themselves and their families.”

Mittons, a child protective services investigator, fears that his own freedom to use his voice on behalf of his vulnerable clients could be harmed if the court rules against AFSCME.

“My job is to head into some of the most impoverished, dangerous parts of Chicago to make sure that children are safe. Often, the families I serve live – and languish, I might add – in poverty, in areas of high crime. They are the disenfranchised. They have no voice,” Mittons said.

“Because I have a strong union and a seat at the table, I have a direct voice in coming up with a strategy to better serve my community, to give a voice to families that no one wants to hear from,” he continued. “When you rob people of the freedom to have that voice – if you take away my ability to speak on their behalf – you’re condemning those families and those kids to silence.”

Mittons also spoke of the ways in which his union membership has benefitted his own family, allowing him to help four of his six children through college.

Each of the other union leaders spoke as well, as did rank-and-file members of their unions, a group that included two teachers and another child protective-services worker.

Saunders also announced that the Working People's Day of Action will take place on February 24, the Saturday before the court hears arguments in the Janus case.