In the Public Interest: “The Supreme Court and “Friedrichs” — Lessons From Wisconsin”
By Donald Cohen, ITPI founder and executive director
Next spring, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide a case that could threaten the economy and American democracy. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association asks the justices to consider overturning a 1977 Supreme Court unanimous ruling (Abood v. Detroit Board of Education) that protected the right of teachers, nurses, librarians, firefighters and other public workers to form unions. …
In Abood, the Court ruled that every public worker who benefits from collective bargaining could be required to pay their fair share for those efforts. It’s a basic democratic principle.
For a preview of what will happen if the Court sides with the plaintiffs in Friedrichs, we should look at Wisconsin.
Politico Morning Shift: “Veto Override Fails In Missouri, Hillary Takes Note”
Lawmakers in the Missouri House of Representatives failed Wednesday to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a right-to-work bill. Nixon vetoed the measure in June, calling it “wrong for workers, wrong for business owners and wrong for Missouri.”
The override’s failure drew a reaction from Hillary Clinton, who released a statement that said: “Right-wing attacks on the labor movement are nothing new. But they are growing in number and intensity. I’ve been disturbed by repeated state-level attacks on basic protections that unions have fought hard for over the years, like a prevailing wage, union dues deductions, binding arbitration, and collective bargaining.”
The Daily Caller: “These Are The Union-Backed MO Republicans Blocking Right-To-Work”
Missouri Times: “Republican infighting occurring after RTW failure”
But it’s not over yet:
Just a few months ago, Gov. Scott Walker made Wisconsin the 25th right-to-work-for-less state in the country, and last week the NewsWire reported how he and his right-wing legislature, not yet satiated with worker blood, are actually trying to outlaw the weekend.
Now his neighbor, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (who’s unsuccessfully pushed right-to-work in his own state), is one-upping Walker. Unable to outlaw collective bargaining outright, he’s proposed that bargaining teams not actually be allowed to talk during bargaining.
Morning Shift: “Rauner and Unions, Again”
Rauner’s pension reform bill turns out to be about more than just pensions. Released last week, the bill enumerates “prohibited subjects of bargaining” between a government employer and a labor union. These include employee pensions, wages, overtime compensation, vacations, holidays, hours of work, lunch periods, and employee tenure. That covers nearly everything governments and unions talk about when they engage in collective bargaining. The bill would give some employees the option of trading some of their pension away in exchange for a bigger raise, more vacation time, or more overtime, the AP reported.
Lawmakers in Illinois already are questioning the plan’s constitutionality. …
We’ve seen this movie before. When Rauner took office in January he pledged to use his executive authority to halt the collection of fair share fees from public employees who decline to join a union that bargains collectively on their behalf. He also pledged to create local right-to-work zones. Legal and political obstacles brought these efforts to a standstill.
Wisconsin state legislators are preparing to vote on a budget … [that] has already drawn criticism for its inclusion of measures that would decimate the state’s open records laws, protect state politicians from media scrutiny, and gut the Wisconsin definition of “living wage.” But one additional measure is worth gaping at, perhaps above all others: section 56, which would take away workers’ right to a weekend — even a one day weekend.
State Senator Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, summed things up by saying that the budget was “kicking in the teeth of Wisconsin workers.” And now the governor who signed it says he wants to do for America what he did for Wisconsin.
Manufacturing Business Technology: “Right-To-Work Bills Introduced In 16 States, But Enacted In Just One”
We’ll call this sort-of-good news, but clearly there’s nothing to celebrate yet:
Although lawmakers in 16 states introduced right-to-work bills, Wisconsin will likely be the only state to enact one, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline. … Other states, meanwhile, attempted to enshrine the right-to-work standard in their constitutions.
To keep the union relevant, SEIU 1021, a merged public sector local in northern California, is prioritizing campaigns to raise the minimum wage, alongside strengthening the union in worksites, said [SEIU 1021 Organizing VP Ramses] Teon-Nichols.
Since electing reform-minded leaders in 2010, Local 1021 has focused on what it calls chapter rebuilds.
“We put tremendous effort into shops, to rebuild stewards councils, chapters, and structures,” Teon-Nichols said. “We are really starting to develop more of an organizing model. We see that there is more value in having people organizing themselves.”
Teon-Nichols added that the inspiring Fight for 15 has helped energize some of the union’s activists — so much so, that he sees it as essential to the union’s internal organizing efforts.
It’s relevant even for members who already make more than $15, he points out. After all, higher wages put money back into the economy, raising revenue for the public sector.
Politico Morning Shift: “NLRB drops right-to-work battle”
The National Labor Relations Board will no longer reconsider a 39-year-old legal precedent that forbids unions in right-to-work states from requiring non-union members to pay “fair share fees” when filing grievances with their employer. …
The NLRB’s decision to suspend its invitation for briefs is welcome news to right-to-work advocates, congressional Republicans and some labor lawyers. … Republicans in Congress cheered at the news.
Politico Morning Shift: “NLRB Takes On Right-to-Work” (April 16)
The National Labor Relations Board’s newest target is the right-to-work movement. In a call for briefs yesterday, the agency said it may allow a union to collect a fee from a non-member in a right-to-work state if that member avails himself of union grievance procedures. Under current NLRB caselaw, unions are prohibited from collecting any fees from non-members in right-to-work states, regardless of whether those members actually use that union’s resources in a conflict with their employer. That’s what the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which created the right-to-work option for states and territories, has always been understood to mean.
Labor supporters say the NLRB should deem it legal for unions to collect fees from non-members using grievance procedures even in right-to-work states. In a blog post last night, Harvard Law Professor Ben Sachs wrote: “There is no seeming rationale for this inequity, and nothing in the federal labor law nor in state right-to-work laws requires it. If unions are prohibited from collecting fair share fees, they should at a minimum be permitted to charge workers for the costs of individual grievance representation.”
Opponents think the board will make the change. “When this board is asking for an amicus brief on the reconsideration of a rule, the majority’s already decided that it wants to change the rule,” said Michael Lotito, a management-side attorney at Littler Mendelson. “This is a signal from this board that [says]: ‘we’re going to push back against the expansion of these right-to-work actions.’”
Read the April 20 follow-up story.
Chicago Sun Times: “Emanuel calls for City Council hearings on Rauner’s ‘right-to-work’ zones”
The public rift between (just re-elected) Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his pal, (Illinois) Gov. Bruce Rauner, got wider Wednesday over Rauner’s provocative proposal to create local “right-to-work” zones.
At a City Council meeting, Emanuel introduced a resolution declaring opposition to the governor’s plan, setting the stage for City Council hearings that will undoubtedly turn into a forum for labor leaders to bash the rookie governor.
The debate has America split — literally. With Wisconsin’s adoption of so-called right-to-work legislation earlier this year, 25 states now prohibit mandatory union dues, and with legislation being pushed in several more states, the right-to-work movement is talking about a national “tipping point.” … The National Right to Work Committee and AFL-CIO agree on one thing: The workplace war has escalated and will continue — they just don’t agree on which way it will tip.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a measure Thursday that would have made Missouri the 26th right-to-work state, and it’s unclear whether proponents will be able to muster enough support in the Republican-led Legislature to override the veto [in September.]
St. Louis Public Radio: “TV ads open summer battle over fate of right-to-work legislation”
Although Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon already has declared he’ll veto an anti-union bill known as “right to work,’’ a labor coalition has launched a TV ad campaign anyway.
The ad blitz is likely just the first salvo in what could be a summer-long effort by both sides to sway the public and politicians on the bill, … Coalition president David Cook said the ad will continue to run “until such time as the governor vetoes the bill.”
Politico Morning Shift: “A Conservative Case Against Right-To-Work?”
When Republican lawmakers in Missouri failed to gain a veto-proof majority to pass a right-to-work bill through the state’s legislature last week, the primary obstacle in their way wasn’t the opposing party, but a bloc of 24 fellow Republicans, reports the Washington Post’s Lydia DePillis.
Right-to-work laws have swept through Republican statehouses in recent years, so Missouri’s hesitant GOP members stand out, owing, perhaps, to “Missouri’s political geography at the moment.” …
The Republican lawmakers’ case for voting against the law had three main points: That unions can actually attract employers because they can make for more skilled workforces; that right-to-work legislation is a distraction from more substantive issues like education and infrastructure; and that right-to-work means “sticking our noses into private individuals’ business.”
The vote was chaotic… . The deciding votes: A bloc of 24 Republicans who bucked their party’s leadership to vote against making Missouri right-to-work.
That’s rare, considering how closely unions have aligned themselves with Democrats over the years. And it’s a consequence of Missouri’s political geography at the moment, with moderate Republicans being elected in fast-growing exurban counties that might be socially conservative but whose residents are still largely members of trade unions. …
The right-to-work bill is by no means dead in Missouri, with a confluence of increasingly powerful Republicans from rural areas and interest from outside groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and National Right to Work Committee helping to push it forward. …
But for now, in Missouri, the conservative case against right-to-work laws has allowed the unions to fight another day.
Ouch. Illinois governor, Bruce Rauner, watched his anti-union bill called, ‘Right-To-Work,’ die a swift, cruel death in the House, on Thursday, with zero votes. Natasha Korecki with Chicago Sun Times reports the the tally was 0 yes votes, 72 no votes, and 37 voting present — “offering a blistering rebuke” to Rauner’s agenda.
Chicago Sun Times: “Right-to-work goes down in flames in Illinois House with zero yes votes”
Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desires to have right-to-work in Illinois went down in flames in the House on Thursday, gaining zero yes votes in a fiery debate Democrats aimed squarely at the governor. The vote tally was 0 yes votes, 72 no votes and 37 voting present, offering a blistering rebuke to Rauner’s anti-union agenda.
The measure, if passed into law, will allow manufacturing businesses that hire 20 or more employees to become right-to-work zones, The Associate Press reports. The policy outlaws mandatory union dues as a condition of employment. … It also exempts those manufacturing businesses from their gross receipts taxes for their first 5 years.
Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO): “What’s Wrong with Right to Work”
RTW has recently re-emerged as a hot political issue, both nationwide and here in the Commonwealth [of Kentucky]. However, two key elements are frequently left out of the conversation about this controversial law. The first is the fact that the RTW campaign has racist, divide-and-conquer origins initially pushed by far-right business interests and candid white supremacists. The second is the fact that the proponents of RTW today are part of the exclusionary lineage of the American right, determined to divide the working-class in one way or another. …
[T]he term “right-to-work” was coined by the long-forgotten Vance Muse, a Texas businessman and white supremacist who founded the Christian American Association (CAA) in the 1940s. Investigative journalist Stetson Kennedy, in his book “Southern Exposure,” quotes Muse as infamously saying that “[f]rom now on, white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.” Muse shrewdly understood that the strength of workers’ organizations were then and are still today predicated on unity across arbitrary boundaries such as race. By undermining unions, Muse and his supporters could then stifle the burgeoning movement for civil rights for black Americans. …
The CAA was a well-known consortium of members of hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, as well as far-right businessmen and political lobbyists. The organization also fought against women’s suffrage, New Deal reforms and even child labor laws. …
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw through the smoke-and-mirrors. He eloquently stated the following, pointing to the intersections between racial and economic justice:
“We must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone. Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights.”
Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO): “The Right to Work… For Less”
All this legislation does is weaken the organizations that are designed to use collective bargaining power to protect and promote the interests of their workers. In fact, as this week’s feature story explains, not only are wages in right-to-work states inferior to those in other states, but so too is workplace safety— occupational fatalities are 34 percent higher in right-to-work states. This legislation literally kills people.
Consider this: Wisconsin’s new right-to-work legislation allows for the Green Bay Packers to opt out of the NFL Player’s Association, a union that all players and teams must join when entering the league. This means that the union will still represent Packer players, even though they are not paying for the protections, benefits and other services provided to them by the Player’s Association.
One way to understand the real intent of RTW is to imagine what would happen to the public services in one’s town, city, or state if the payment of taxes were voluntary. How long would our public schools, libraries, sanitation systems, water facilities, parks and so forth function if taxes were optional?
Charging fees would be impermissible, because persons that refuse to pay tax would have an equal right to the schools, libraries, garbage collection, water, etc, as those that do pay. Just like RTW, the services would have to remain equally accessible to tax payers as well as tax deadbeats. Public services as we know them would collapse.
All collective endeavors require resources to achieve their goals. Labor unions represent working persons at their place of employment through collective bargaining.
Organized labor also has an admirable history of fighting on behalf of non-union workers through political advocacy on issues such as workplace safety, minimum wage and public health insurance. The obvious intent of the ALEC-funded RTW effort is to burden the union movement’s pursuit of these goals by making it difficult to acquire financial resources. …
On a political level, the expansion of RTW is symptomatic of the resurgent influence of corporate control over political affairs. Advocates for RTW, as agents of the corporate class, evidently have enough resources to convince persons to vote to undermine one of the few social institutions that advance the interests of working persons.
Observing these events brings to mind the quip attributed to the 19th-century railroad baron, Jay Gould, during an earlier era of great inequality: “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” Elite arrogance is back in vogue.
Charlotte Post (The Voice of the Black Community): “Balancing right to work against workers’ rights”
Such a divide-and-conquer process not only promotes dissension at the workplace, but the larger issue is its potential to splinter and weaken unions—and by extension, weaken minority communities. African-Americans are especially vulnerable to the reduction in unionism. The percentage of African-American males in particular who are represented by a union stood at 15.8 percent in 2014. That’s more than three percentage points higher than any other demographic.
Organized labor has long been the door through which African-Americans have walked their way toward middle class status. Historically, there have always been a higher percentage of African Americans in unions than African Americans in the entire workforce as a whole. Consequently, the battles waged against organized labor disproportionately affect the middle class standing of the African-American community.
Without aggressive action, the right-to-work tsunami will sweep more states. To defeat it, the first step is committing to fight back, rather than resigning ourselves to what some say is inevitable.
We’ll have to go beyond what we’ve mostly been saying so far, which is that right to work is “unfair” or “wrong.” … But the real challenge is to convince a much broader public that a strong (and fairly-funded) labor movement is in their interest and worth preserving. Clearly most Americans aren’t yet convinced.
The Atlantic: “Why Workers Won’t Unite”
As anxiety about inequality and the erosion of the middle class rises, so does awareness that still more seismic changes are ahead in a landscape of work where long-term employment is on the wane. Today, both professional and low-wage jobs are dominated by an ideology of “flexibility” — and by a reality of transient relationships between employers and employees. Those ties are getting only more tenuous as the “on-demand economy” takes off, with the spread of Uber-style instant consumer services. …
The story of America’s industrializing era in fact features plenty of class struggle. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw fierce confrontation over the economic future of the nation. Workers had no protected right to organize, and employers were not compelled to recognize unions.
Yet workers in voluntary organizations (and sometimes even nonmembers) were able to stage strikes that shut down much of the national rail system and roiled the largest factories. …
All of this … is markedly absent today. We live in an “age of acquiescence” — unhappily facing similar problems, but no longer believing that we have any power to create or even imagine an alternative to the ascendancy of elites in an era of global competition.
CBS Las Vegas: “Labor Groups Fear ‘Union Armageddon’ In Nevada Legislature”
“It’s fairly clear that it would mortally wound unions in Nevada,” said Rebecca Theim, spokeswoman for SEIU Local 1107 … . “There’s nothing covered in collective bargaining that that bill would not eliminate or damage.”
Among other things, the measure would prevent collective bargaining agreements from stopping layoffs during a budget crisis and eliminates seniority from being considered in layoffs.
Oregon may be one of the next big battlegrounds over “right to work” restrictions on unions that have now spread to 25 states. … (The ballot) measures now include provisions saying that public workers who don’t join a union will no longer receive representation. That means they would deal directly with their employer on wages, benefits and working conditions.
“The rich stay healthy, the sick stay poor.” — U2 (“God, Part 2”)
Working people face a perfect storm of assaults on their rights this year thanks (more exactly, no thanks) to a coordinated attack by state and Congressional politicians and their corporate owners.
Just last week we could only watch as Wisconsin fell to become the country’s 25th right-to-work-for-less state, but that’s not the only battleground, not by a long shot. (Map 1) Right-to-work and other union-busting bills are passing through at least a dozen state capitols right now, as many as 800 bills across the country (see below). Mostly these are states firmly under Republican control since the November 2014 elections.
On another front, a desperate legal assault at the US Supreme Court (King v. Burwell) threatens to deprive as many as 9 million people of federal health insurance subsides that have made it possible for them to get health care under the Affordable Care Act. (Map 2) A decision is expected in June. And the federal challenge to the 1977 Abood decision could destroy unions and hurt working families in all 50 states.
Some states that could lose federal subsidies for their residents have also declined to expand Medicaid under the ACA, depriving the poorest people access to health care too. (Map 3)
Finally, and not coincidentally, many of these same states also suffer from the highest poverty rates in the nation. (Map 4)
It’s no wonder there are two Americas and that economic inequality has reached levels not seen since the Middle Ages. Our nation’s elected officials and the corporations who own them are making it the law of the land.
NY Times Room for Debate: “Scott Walker, ‘Right to Work’ and Labor’s Waning Power”
Associated Press: “It’s not just right-to-work: Bills targeting unions multiply”
Now Republicans, in control of the [West Virginia] state legislature for the first time since 1931, are taking advantage of their opportunity, pushing measures to expand non-union charter schools and scale back requirements that public projects pay higher, union-scale wages. …
With many legislative sessions just beginning, nearly 800 union-related bills have been proposed in statehouses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. …
If there’s a bright side for labor, it’s that things could be even worse. Given how many states Republicans control, Sherk said, there could be many more challenges to labor than have emerged.
Politico Morning Shift: “GOP State Labor Agenda Goes Beyond Right-to-Work”
Right-to-work legislation is not the only item on the labor agenda for Republican-dominated state legislatures, the Associated Press reports. In West Virginia, Republicans, in control for the first time since 1931, are trying to expand non-union charter schools and limit requirements that public projects pay union-scale wages. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, nearly 800 union-related bills have been proposed in statehouses. And the legislative session has only just begun.
Bangor Daily News: “Maine unions aim to raise wages, kill right-to-work bills”
American Thinker: “Right to Work Initiative in Washington State”
New Hampshire Union Leader: “Senate deadlocks on right-to-work bill”
In These Times: “How Unions Can Grow Stronger in the Wake of Right To Work”
Yet even in the darkest circumstances, there are alternatives. Unions hope that they can appeal to current public concern with inequality to heighten opposition to right-to-work laws, since they shift power and wealth from workers to the rich. “We’re very focused on income inequality and wage stagnation,” says Geoff Wetrosky, director of the AFLCIO’s national campaign against right to work. “Workers are fed up.” …
Ultimately, the labor movement needs to mount a philosophical, as well as a legal, defense of collective bargaining as a public good, increasing both democracy and equality. Union defenders need to argue that meaningful freedom of association at work requires having an institution that is democratically run by workers, who can participate as much as they like, but may be required to support it, much as they have to pay taxes. …
Ron Ault, a veteran Southern organizer, argues that if unions are steadfast, they can organize anywhere, including the South. “I’ve never seen in my lifetime the pent-up demand and need for labor unions [that I see now],” he says — especially among younger workers. “People want what we have to offer.”
Right to Work
Vox: “Right-to-work: the anti-union laws now on the books in 25 states”
Health Insurance Subsidies
Washington Post: “Six quick facts about today’s massive Supreme Court case that could derail Obamacare”
State Refor(u)m: “Map: Where States Stand on Medicaid Expansion Decisions”
PovertyUSA: “Poverty Map”