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Unions rally at UMass on day high court hears key case

  • Amy Chapman, who works at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, accompanied by her daughter, Asha Drake, 2½, signs a petition at the Working People's Day of Action Rally held at the UMass Student Union on Monday. The petition, and others like it circulated at rallies throughout the country, will be sent to the Supreme Court which, on Monday, was hearing oral arguments in the Janus vs. AFSCME case. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Edwin Murenzi speaks at the "Working People's Day of Action Rally" held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Union on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ben Grosscup performs an original song at the "Working People's Day of Action Rally" held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Union on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ben Grosscup performs an original song for about 200 people at the "Working People's Day of Action Rally" held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Union on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Max Page speaks at the "Working People's Day of Action Rally" held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Union on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Donna Vanasse speaks at the "Working People's Day of Action Rally" held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Union on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Joe Malinowski speaks at the "Working People's Day of Action Rally" held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Union on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Brad Turner speaks at the "Working People's Day of Action Rally" held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Union on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Brad Turner speaks at the "Working People's Day of Action Rally" held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Union on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Kate Hudson speaks at the "Working People's Day of Action Rally" held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Union on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Solomon Goldstein-Rose speaks at the "Working People's Day of Action Rally" held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Union on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Max Page speaks at the Working People’s Day of Action rally held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Union on Monday. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Kate Hudson speaks at the "Working People's Day of Action Rally" held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Union on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Christina Gray signs a petition circulated by the AFL-CIO to be sent to the Supreme Court during the "Working People's Day of Action Rally" held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Union on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING



For the Gazette
Tuesday, February 27, 2018

AMHERST — On the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court began to hear oral arguments on a defining case for organized labor, area workers came together Monday at the University of Massachusetts to rally for more union jobs.

The Supreme Court case argued Monday will determine the constitutionality of an Illinois law that allows government employee unions to collect fees from workers who choose not to join.

“We can’t tell the Supreme Court what to do, but we can still keep our members — that doesn’t mean that unions just die tomorrow,” said Sheila Gilmour, vice president of the University Staff Association at UMass. “This means that they’re going to make us work for it, but we’ve always worked for it.”

The Trump administration backs the argument made by Illinois worker Mark Janus that government employees should not be required to pay fees to a union that they do not agree with. Unions say that these “fair-share” fees pay for collective bargaining the union does on behalf of all employees and not just members.

“It’s part of a wider attack on unions, on the left, on social movements,” said Santiago Vidales, a graduate student at UMass and co-chairman of the UMass Graduate Employee Organization. “It’s important to not give up the battle if the Supreme Court does not rule in favor of unions. We have the ability to grow our union here, and maybe this could be a gut-check to do our organizing more thoroughly and completely.”

The Amherst rally was one of many similar rallies across the nation on Monday’s “Working People’s Day of Action.” Approximately 250 unionized workers organized by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO gathered in the Cape Cod Lounge at the UMass flagship and heard short speeches from local union leaders and statements from politicians on unions in America.

“We have 700 members now, and we are again bargaining to improve their benefits. Experience was everything I needed for motivation and strength to continue fighting the good fight,” said Joe Malinowski, president of AFSCME 1776. “Being a union member here has let me make a difference in the lives of others.”

Kate Hudson, a senior lecturer in educational policy, research and administration at UMass and a member of the Massachusetts Society of Professors, said she believed unions were important in giving workers power in numbers.

“I have a really long relationship with unions at UMass. I am a second-generation member of the MSP, my father taught anthropology. And in the 20 years I have worked here on campus I have belonged to no fewer than four unions represented here today,” Hudson said.

“We still have a lot of work to do but there is no place else that I would rather be doing this work. Now more than ever we need to stand behind our unions and work together on campus and beyond.”

Speaking at the rally, state Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, I-Amherst, said unions need to continue engagement in the community and the workplace to better the political system.

“One of the great things that unions promote is involvement,” Goldstein-Rose said. “The fair-share amendment, the paid family medical leave and the $15 minimum wage initiatives are great examples of how our unions in Massachusetts have truly been leading these efforts, have been getting progressive policy legislation on the agenda in the Legislature and on the ballot.”

Statements from state Sen. Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., were read at the rally in support of unions and the work they do collectively.

At the end of the rally, organizers at the event pushed union members in attendance to continue having member-to-member conversations with other workers, while also insisting that some workers recommit to their union by signing new membership forms.

Max Page, one of the board of directors of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and UMass professor of architecture, said events like these were important to keep unions strong.

“We are the largest unionized worksite in New England, here at UMass,” said Page after his speech at the rally. “So it was important for union members to come out on the day the case was being heard and say that we are going to be strong either way it’s decided.”

He later added, “The decline of union membership has led to greater inequality in this country.”

Page said unions were fundamental to progress in society, and that the Janus case was a threat to public sector unions.

“Unions make more equitable societies. Everywhere there are unions, wages are higher for working people and more progressive things pass, like better health care and more taxes that get invested in schools. It’s universal,” Page said.