Allow me a moment to introduce myself. I am head custodian at Oak Hills Elementary School in Lakeville, Minn., and a proud and active member of my local union. On Jan. 11, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to rally outside the Supreme Court of the United States during oral arguments in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association—and to help spread the message about what this case is really about.
Fundamentally, this case is about silencing the voices of hardworking men and women who improve their professions and strengthen their communities through their unions. Voices just like mine.
My fellow members of SEIU Local 284 have accomplished a great deal in our community by uniting with one voice.
A couple of years ago, we fought the big banks in the Minneapolis area by staging large actions when they refused to help people in need who were facing foreclosure of their homes. As a child, I learned firsthand what it was like to lose our family’s home. Through my union, I was able to fight for others in the same situation, and was even arrested during a peaceful sit-in protesting the big banks.
Speaking of banks, when several banking chains in our area refused to allow hardworking Somali immigrants to send money back to their relatives, we took to the streets with marches, protests and rallies until the financial institutions relented.
In terms of our own jobs, we’ve been able to secure fair wages and benefits though our united voice as well. The result has been lower turnover, producing a network of custodians with a sense of community and partnership at the schools where they work. We do not just “clean.” We help look out for the children that attend our schools and the teachers who work there. During fire drills we help get everyone out; and when there are medical emergencies, we try to keep people calm and organize the efforts to provide aid for the affected. If it weren’t for our collective voice that has produced good jobs with quality contracts—custodians would be there just to clean and nothing else.
So I came to Washington, D.C., to make sure people know that—contrary to what the special interests say—they are not trying to protect working people through their lawsuit. They are simply trying to silence a group that gets in their way as they game the system and make up rules as they go along. As I stood on the steps of the Supreme Court building, I was thrilled to see hundreds of union members just like me who braved the cold to come out to defend their voice. Teachers, nurses, firefighters, social workers and dozens more were standing up to the corporate special interests that are driving the Friedrichs case. Regardless of what the court decides, we will continue to stand up for our communities.