A message from MAPE Executive Director Lina Jamoul
By Lina Jamoul
Executive Director, MAPE
The iconic labor movie Norma Rae was based on Crystal Lee Sutton, a textile worker in North Carolina who unionized her co-workers in the 1970s. More than 40 years later, West Virginia teachers sparked a nationwide wave of strikes, winning a well-deserved pay increase. Workers will always have a universal impulse to organize.
Pictured on the right is MAPE Executive Director Lina Jamoul.
I learned from my parents who tried building a democratic movement in Syria, a country run by an authoritarian government, that the rule of the many is always better than the rule of the few. If workers don’t organize, if we don’t come together, talk to one another and determine how our workplaces can be more equitable, then people in power, whether the legislature or the employer, will make decisions for us and not with us. Without workers organizing, without the union, there is no ability to tip the scales of justice in the workplace and the economy. The history of the United States, and the history of the labor movement, tells us that regardless of legislation and court rulings the impulse of workers to come together in order to determine their own fate and not leave it up to the employer or politicians alone, can never be extinguished.
In my conversations with MAPE-represented workers all over the state, long-term fee-payers like Jonathan and Dan told me they value the wages and benefits we negotiate. When I explained that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME will eliminate the fee-payer option – enabling non-members to contribute nothing to the union but still reap the benefits – they told me they didn’t think that was right. They believed that because they benefit, they should contribute. By the end of our conversation, they had joined MAPE.
Nearly 1,000 new members, like Jonathan and Dan, have joined MAPE in the last few months alone. And thousands more have signed union “recommitment” cards. The reasons varied. For some, they had worked in non-unionized places, like Wells Fargo, where they had lost their jobs unfairly or had unreasonable work demands placed on them. For others, it was seeing their own health care costs remain affordable while their family members in other states suffered from spiraling premiums and copays. For others like Sarah, it was the community of co-workers that she met through the union that made her feel less anonymous as a new employee. And for people like Michaela, Sanjukta and Celi, who had all come from Wisconsin, it was seeing how the attack on unions became an attack on quality public services as well as their livelihoods.
For those who understand that being part of the collective is better than being isolated, I ask this of you: Talk to your co-workers about what we can do together to strengthen our union in our workplaces. We’ve been preparing for the last few years for this court decision by having these conversations in every corner of the state.
The end of the fee-payer option does not mean the end of our union – far from it. Millions of public sector workers organized for better wages and working conditions in this country before they had the right to bargain collectively, and before the fee-payer option. The Janus decision, aimed at weakening public sector unions like ours, will no doubt be challenging. But we have been preparing, and our union is the strongest it has ever been. No court case can hold us back. The impulse of working people to organize is tenacious and we will emerge from this more powerful than ever because we’re in this together.