Standing strong as decision looms
By Laura Barrett
W orkers took to the streets in Massachusetts cities and towns — and thousands more wore pro-union stickers at their worksites
— to show solidarity on Feb. 26 as the U.S. Supreme
Court heard arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a
case backed by wealthy special interests intent on
weakening the power of public employee unions.
The events were all part of the Working
People’s Day of Action, coordinated by national
unions in Washington, D.C., and their state and
“The more they threaten us, the harder we
push back,” said MTA President Barbara Madeloni,
referring to anti-union forces. “Their attacks are
having the positive impact of forcing unions to work
more closely with one another.
“Our bonds are growing stronger,” she
continued. “And their assault on our right to organize
and bargain collectively is causing us to deepen our
relationship with our members. The more roadblocks
they put in our way, the stronger we have to become
to climb over them.”
Madeloni noted later that the powerful strike
by educators in West Virginia occurred even as the
Janus case was being considered by the court.
“The West Virginia educators stood up and said
they weren’t going to be disrespected and underpaid
anymore,” she said. “They didn’t back down. They
held out for all public-sector workers and refused to
be divided. We need to take heart and courage from
The Janus case challenges the unanimous
Supreme Court decision in 1977 that gave unions
the right to collect “agency” or “fair-share” fees
from public employees who receive benefits and
protections under union contracts even if they decide
not to become members.
The Supreme Court is widely expected to rule
against public employee unions along ideological
lines, with President Donald Trump’s appointee,
Justice Neil Gorsuch, casting the deciding vote.
If that happens, agency fee payers will be able to
become “free riders,” enjoying the benefits of the
contract without paying anything toward negotiating
or maintaining it.
A decision in the case is expected in June, but
could come at any time.
Working People’s Day of Action events were
held in Amherst, Boston, Greenfield, Fall River, New
Bedford, Lawrence, Springfield and Worcester.
In Boston, several hundred unionized workers
crowded together in front of the fire station on
Purchase Street shortly after noon and listened to
impassioned speeches delivered before a phalanx of
Steven Tolman, president of the Massachusetts
AFL-CIO, roared, “This is an attack on working
people! They’re trying to divide us. We’re going to
Deb Gesualdo, president of the Malden
Education Association, said she went to the Boston
rally to “stand in solidarity with all my other union
brothers and sisters.” She left feeling inspired.
“When I woke up, I was feeling the stress of
the day, knowing it was Janus v. AFSCME day,”
Gesualdo said. “After I went to the rally, I felt so
much better. It was awesome. The energy was so
good. To see so many different people, so many
different lines of work represented and so many
different unions was wonderful.”
Eve Weinbaum, president of the Massachusetts
Society of Professors at UMass Amherst, said that all
of the unions on campus — both MTA affiliates and
others — worked together to organize a solidarity
event. Such coordinated efforts are rare, she said.
listen to music, sign commitment cards and hear
inspirational speeches by members of six different
“Everyone told moving, personal stories about
why their unions matter,” Weinbaum said. One
speaker was Donna Vanasse, general secretary of the
University Staff Association at UMass Amherst.
“I talked about my position as a program
coordinator for 18 years being eliminated and how
scary it was to be suddenly unemployed,” Vanasse
later told MTA Today. “I was out of work for
three weeks and we were about to lose our health
insurance. My husband was out of work with an
injury and I have an adult son who is disabled.
The prospect of having no income and no health
insurance was terrifying.”
V anasse turned to her union for help. She was told of her contractual right to be the first candidate interviewed for a
comparable position on campus. The position could
only be opened to others if her application was
She was hired to do a similar job in a new
department and said she is very happy. She has also
become active in her union, which is seeking even
stronger layoff protections for classified staff.
In New Bedford, hundreds of working men and
women gathered at City Hall at dusk to listen to
speeches about what being a union member means.
Laura Guimond, a fifth-grade teacher in Fall River,
described the stark difference between working in
Texas — a so-called “right-to-work” state — and in
“There was no protection to talk about the
problems I saw,” Guimond said, talking about
teaching in Texas. “I was afraid to raise issues or
voice my concerns.
Photos by Eric Haynes
Continued on next page
“Our bonds are growing stronger,” MTA President Barbara Madeloni, above left, told a crowd during a Working People’s Day of Action event at a
fire station in Boston. Above right, union supporters from all walks of life attended the noontime rally. Similar events were held across the state.