It was lunchtime, but the lines to the food trucks in the Financial District were empty. Hard hats and neon yellow safety vests filled Purchase Street outside the Boston Firehouse, illuminating the grey sidewalk with reflective light. Bodies spilled onto the road, but the frequent car horns packed them closer.
Hundreds of workers, politicians, and citizens gathered on Monday to participate in the rally ‘Working People’s Day of Action,’ and pledged to continue to support and promote workers rights. Speakers included Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey; Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, BC ’09; Lee A. Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), among others.
The rally coincided with the Supreme Court hearings on Janus vs. AFSCME, a case challenging an Illinois law allowing unions representing government employees to collect “fair-share” fees from workers who do not wish to join.
Unions argue that the fees pay for collective bargaining and other work done on behalf of all employees, not just its members. But the plaintiff, Mark Janus, a child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, argues that the law is a violation of first amendment rights.
A similar case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, went before the Supreme Court in 2016, and it was predicted that the court would side against unions, but the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia resulted in a split 4-4 decision. President Trump’s most recent appointment of conservative justice Neil Gorsuch has caused many to believe that Janus has the 5th vote needed to win. A decision is expected in late June.
If the law is overturned, unions will suffer a huge cut in revenues and membership. The case also threatens the Democratic Party, who rely heavily on unions for funding and support in elections.
“Elections matter,” Walsh said. “When you go to the polls in November, think about who you’re voting for. Let’s make sure the people that are elected into office understand the importance of working class people. Let’s make sure they understand the importance of what we are fighting for today.”
Walsh went on to stress the city of Boston’s support of unions. “This is not a labor rally. It’s a rally about how to protect people’s rights. In Boston we believe all labor has dignity. I have a union book in my pocket. And I’m proud of that book.”
Markey echoed Walsh and urged protestors to become active in politics. “Republicans have turned against the union movement in an effort to undermine our progress,” he said. “We are going to stand up until we beat Donald Trump and beat the Republican party. We need change in our country. Let’s get started.”
Warren told rally-goers to remain united. She criticized what she called big corporations and special interests, accusing Republicans of supporting them.
“Corruptions and anti-union forces are doing everything they can to tilt the scales in their favor,” she said. “We are here today to reaffirm the rights for all workers in America. Unions built America’s middle class and unions will rebuild America’s middle class.”
Warren’s fiery rhetoric was met with whoops of approval from the crowd. Signs waved in the air bearing messages reading, “We’re sticking with the union,” “#We Rise,” and “Unions Strengthen our Community.” Rally officials passed out stickers and encouraged protesters to sign a petition against Janus vs. AFSCME.
Nearing the end of the event, Saunders told protesters that union power lies in solidarity. “Now is the time to make our voices heard,” he said. “This is what the trade union movement is all about.”
His eyes gazed searchingly throughout the crowd. He brought the microphone up to his lips, and asked “Are you ready?”
Featured Images By Isabel Fenoglio / Heights Editor