My Turn: Gerard E. O’Neill: Union dues are money well spent

I write in response to the Aug. 31 Commentary piece (“Public employees deserve to know their rights”) by Stephen Skoly, the recently elected chairman of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity. All you need to know about this right-wing group is that on its web page it talks about the importance of complete government transparency, yet it will not release the names of its donors.

 Mr. Skoly is a classic example of do what I say, not what I do. Council 94 members know that this group is only concerned about the prosperity of its donors, not the prosperity of our members. Our members also know that the Friedrichs and Janus cases before the Supreme Court were never about First Amendment rights. They were only about zealots and billionaires trying to silence the voice of middle-class Americans.

 The loudest voices speaking up for the middle class are public-sector unions and their members. If people like Skoly and Mike Stenhouse, founder and CEO of the center, can silence public-sector unions, the middle class will not survive.

 Council 94 and other public-sector unions will not let this happen. We have been representing and fighting for our members for almost 50 years. We will continue to fight. Where have Stenhouse and Skoly been for the last 50 years?

 Council 94 members pay about $1.38 per day for their union protections. For about $1.38 a day, our members receive job security, excellent health care, good salaries, good vacation- and sick-leave accruals, seniority rights, overtime, just-cause protection and a voice in the workplace, among many other benefits.

 Our members also know that Council 94 endorses politicians who support public employees with political action committee money, not union dues. PAC money is additional money members agree to contribute towards political action. Usually a dollar or two per pay period.

 Union dues, about $1.38 per day, pay for an office building, secretarial support services, six field staff (including three lawyers), an executive director, arbitration fees, two private distinguished labor lawyers, and an international union in Washington, D.C. Public employees know the importance of supporting politicians who appreciate the hard work and dedication of our members who often perform difficult and dangerous work.

 Groups like the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity like to spread myths about people not needing a union unless they are troublesome employees. One recent case shows this is not true. A longtime municipal employee had her position abolished by the employer and she attempted to bump into a more junior person’s job, using union-negotiated contract language. The employer took the position she was not in the union, even though she had been paying union dues for years and would not let her bump.

 The union took her case to arbitration and won. The arbitration cost Council 94 about $2,480. The employer appealed the award to Superior Court and Council 94 won there. Our legal expense was $2,000. The employer appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court. Council 94 won again in the Supreme Court. Our legal fees were $2,500.

 Council 94 spent almost $7,000 dollars to protect this member’s job. Without dues money, there is no arbitration, no legal representation in Superior Court, no legal representation in the Supreme Court, and no job for our member. This is exactly what union opponents want. Without money, Council 94 cannot represent members.

 One final point. Council 94 has fought for our members’ prosperity for almost 50 years. Mr. Skoly and his secret groups have never been concerned about our member’s prosperity.

How can anyone believe anything this group says? Its slogan should be, “Less for Your Pay; Take Away Your Say.”

Gerard E. O’Neill is executive director of Rhode Island Council 94 of AFSCME AFL-CIO.

 Link to Original Editorial in the Providence Journal - "Union Dues Are Money Well Spent"