Bill Knight column for Mon, Tues., or Wed., Sept. 14, 15 or 16
The Supreme Court that gutted campaign-finance rules in “Citizens United” is now targeting organized labor. The Court announced that it will review a lawsuit that threatens unions collecting partial payments to recover costs for representing workers who aren’t members.
“Citizens United” made possible the domination of wealth in political campaigns. Right-wing groups such as the billionaire Koch brothers’ American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) made possible extremists and lobbyists drafting legislation lawmakers introduce and sometimes pass. And now a Supreme Court with five members nominated by Republican presidents seems determined to undermine one of the few American institutions able to stand up to wealth and power: unions.
Funded and pushed by the anti-worker National Right To Work Committee, “Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association” is trying to obliterate public worker unions by destroying their finances. The case stems from an Orange County teacher who objects to paying a “fair share” contribution to the union that bargains her wages, hours and working conditions on the grounds that it violates her First Amendment right to free speech.
Unions are legally required to represent all employees in their workplace, and fair-share revenues cannot be spent on political activities, courts have ruled.
In a joint statement, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the Service Employees said, “We are disappointed that at a time when big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance, the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America – that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a decent life.”
The Supreme Court in 1977 ruled that public unions may collect fair-share fees to cover the costs of collective bargaining, even from employees who don’t join or support the union.
Last summer, in a case about unionized health-care workers in Illinois, the Court ruled 5-4 that unionized home health care workers here can’t be required to pay fair-share fees to the unions representing them, and George W. Bush nominee Samuel Alito said no public workers should pay fair share fees, on “free speech” grounds, essentially inviting the current case to come before the Court.
The Right To Work crowd can’t be forthright about its agenda in legislatures, because pro-worker lawmakers would block it, but it’s really after the elimination of unions and no worker opposition – total control by plutocrats, the country’s new “lords.”
Oddly, fellow conservative Antonin Scalia supported fair share in 1991, saying that public-sector unions had a legal obligation to represent all employees in their bargaining units, so it was reasonable to require workers to pay their share of the costs.
The “Friedrichs” appeal was filed by Michael Carvin, the attorney who argued this year’s failed attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act. That extremist connection is no coincidence, according to Bob Bruno, a labor law professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“It’s all to do serious damage to the Democratic Party,” Bruno said. “Even with falling numbers, labor is still punching above its weight class. If you could do damage to that constituency group, you can do damage to Democrats.”
If the justices decide against organized labor, then the unions involved would be unable to legally require contributions from people they must represent. Unions would be financially weakened and forced to cut spending, so the case threatens public unions first but eventually all unions.
Soon, every union in every sector would face contrived “something for nothing” claims hiding behind the First Amendment. But more immediately, every state and local governmental body could become a Right To Work (for Less) fiefdom of managers and supervisors.
A 21t century Magna Carta is needed before workers get out the torches and pitchforks.
[PICTURED: John Darkow cartoon from politicalruminations.com.]