Thousands to rally in 'Working People's Day of Action' before Supreme Court clash over unions

Dubbed the "Working People's Day of Action," the nationwide rallies aims to invoke the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the sanitation workers who walked off their jobs in Memphis 50 years ago.

It was on Feb. 12, 1968, that the black sanitation workers - carrying signs that said "I Am A Man" - started their high-stakes strike. At the same time, they sought to join Local 1733.
Local 1733 is part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - and it's AFSCME that's now the defendant in the Janus case that many labor leaders see as a right-wing-funded attempt to deal the union movement a potentially crippling blow.

At stake is the right of public-sector unions to charge fees to workers who choose not to join labor organizations - but who still gain from the collectively bargained salaries, pensions and other benefits that unions negotiate on their behalf.

A loss in the case would overturn about 40 years of established labor law, and possibly put severe strains on the finances of public-sector unions across the country.

Baxter Leach, a longtime AFSCME member and sanitation worker who participated in the 1968 Memphis strike, will take center stage Feb. 24 at Foley Square in lower Manhattan.
Leach, 78, was present when King gave a speech in Memphis March 18 and again when he tried to march with strikers 10 days later.

He will be among the many civil rights figures and leaders who attend the New York rally - which organizers expect to draw a crowd of roughly 5,000.

Public- and private-sector labor groups are preparing to turn out - even though the immediate threat of Janus vs. AFSCME is to municipal unions.

"What we want to do is send a powerful message to the rest of the country that here in New York working people clearly understand that the labor movement is the backbone of the middle class," said Mario Cilento, head of the state AFL-CIO.

"The freedom of working men and women to have a voice in the workplace is under an unprecedented attack by conservative ideologues in Washington backed by powerful corporations. . . . We will not allow these assaults to silence the voice of working people," he added.

SImilar rallies will take place in San Diego; Miami; Detroit; St. Paul; Columbus, Ohio; Philadelphia; Chicago; Memphis, and D.C.

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