The United States Supreme Court recently reconvened to begin work on a host of controversial cases, including one that will have significant impact on the future of organized labor: Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. Although the suit was brought by teachers, the case applies to all public employees.
At a time when corporations and the wealthy are rewriting the rules of the economy in their favor, this case has the potential to knock American families and our entire economy off balance. This case, plain and simple, threatens the fundamental promise of America – that if you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to provide a decent life for your family.
Rebecca Friedrichs and several other public school teachers in California filed suit arguing that the separation between collective bargaining and political advocacy is not clearly defined, and therefore, paying even a portion of dues (referred to as agency fee or “fair share” fee) as a condition of employment violates their first amendment rights. The Supreme Court has taken the case to rule on these fees.
An unfavorable ruling would make it significantly harder for unions to organize and maintain their membership and advocate collectively for better wages and fairer working conditions.
Furthermore, if the court finds that teachers no longer have to pay the fair-share fees, many current union members may decide to stop paying dues entirely because, although the cost difference between a full membership and a fair-share fee is small, the difference between full membership and paying nothing is significant.
Public-sector unions throughout New Jersey and the nation have been aggressively preparing for this decision for over a year, and soon the case will be decided. It has the potential to be one of the most harmful legal changes to American unions since 1957, when section 14b of the Taft-Hartley law was passed, creating the option for states to enact “Right-to-Work” laws.
We saw what happened in Wisconsin when Governor Walker first attacked the public sector, and as soon as he weakened that sector of the labor movement enough, he then set his sights on bringing “Right to Work” to the building trades and private-sector unions as well. Friedrichs seeks to advance this strategy nationally.
It’s no surprise that the suit was brought with the backing of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, whose goal is make the entire nation “Right to Work” and to eliminate unions in general. Furthermore, it’s right out of ALEC’s playbook, another organization that is promoting prevailing wage repeal legislation in more than28 states.
Let’s be informed about the possible ramifications of this case, realizing an attack on one sector of the labor movement is an attack on us all.