This post was originally featured at Labor Notes.
By Penny Lewis
With the election of Donald Trump as president and Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, we are entering a period of existential crisis for unions and our organized power. The coming months and years are going to call for a spirit of maximum solidarity.
In this short piece I describe the likely form and substance of the attacks. Here I’m limiting my discussion to issues that most directly implicate unions, though there’s plenty more for workers to fear from the incoming administration—including increasing privatization and broad-brush deregulation, as well as efforts to pit workers against one another by fanning the flames of racism, sexism, and hostility toward immigrants. Continue reading What’s Coming for Unions under President Trump
It’s the case that’s had the labor movement on edge: Friedrichs v CTA. At stake? Public sector unions’ right to claim fees from their members.
Today, the Supreme Court delivered a split vote decision. At 4-4, the now-eight-member court affirmed the judgment of the lower court in favor of the teachers’ union — and labor activists everywhere breathed a collective sigh of relief.
However, as Matt Ford explains at the Atlantic (A Narrow Escape for Public Sector Unions 3/29/16), the future remains uncertain:
Tuesday’s deadlock means that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in favor of the teachers’ union will stand. But it also signaled that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who almost certainly joined Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas on one side of the split, would be willing to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the decision that became the basis for public-employee contracts. (The Court did not disclose how each justice voted in today’s decision.) That tosses the precedent’s ultimate fate to the next justice who serves on the Court.
For more, read the full article at the Atlantic.
Featured photo by Patrick McKay via flickr (CC-BY-NC).
By Penny Lewis
The Friedrichs case argued before the Supreme Court yesterday will decide the near-term fate of public sector unions in the United States. In this and the next blog post I am mulling over the roots and implications of this case; in the next I want to consider what it means for us here at CUNY and our current contract fight.
The basic issue facing the Court is whether the “agency fees” collected by public unions from public workers violate the first amendment rights of non-union workers. The plaintiffs are making the case that, because bargaining in the public sector involves issues like merit pay, public workers who do not support the positions their unions take on such issues are being forced to pay for political speech with which they disagree. (For more background on the case, please look here and here.)
The ideological — and more importantly, material — roots of this argument lie in the decades long assault launched by conservative groups, their corporate funders and their political allies to discredit and dismantle the collective power of workers.
Continue reading Friedrichs Case, Unions and the Public Sector
Today, the Supreme Court will hear a case with huge implications for public sector unions. The case is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Union, and at issue is the question of whether members of public sector unions can be required to pay dues to support union efforts.
Over at Gawker, Hamilton Nolan breaks it down (Today They Try to Break the Public Unions):
If you are a government employee in a unionized workplace—a teacher, for example, belonging to a teachers union—you and all of your colleagues pay a set fee to the union, to cover the costs of the union’s work to negotiate a contract that you work under. This is simply the principle of everyone paying their fair share for work that benefits everyone. If you are a teacher and you happen to dislike teachers unions for some political reason, you are not required to be a member of the union; if you do not want to be a member of the union, you cannot be required to pay fees to cover strictly political activities that the union undertakes, like lobbying or political donations to favored candidates. But since the union negotiates the contract that covers everyone, you are still required to pay your fair share fee, called an “agency fee,” to cover bargaining costs.
The Friedrichs case aims to do away with the requirement that those who enjoy the benefits of public union contracts pay an agency fee to cover the cost of getting those contracts in the first place. Why? The legal argument in the case is that all union activity is inherently political, even contract negotiations, and therefore requiring non-members to pay fees to cover bargaining costs still amounts to compelling them to pay for political speech that they disagree with. Because public sector union bargaining involves government spending priorities and whatnot, the plaintiffs say, it is political, and the decision to support it with fees should be purely a choice, rather than a requirement—even if someone is reaping the benefits of the contract the union negotiated for them.
Unions point out the very obvious problem with this idea, which is that it allows “free riders” to get all the benefits of union membership without paying any of the costs. In this sense it would be akin to a local government telling its citizens they only have to pay local taxes to collect garbage and repair roads and clean the streets if they agree with the government politically. It would allow plenty of people to opt out of paying, but still enjoy all of the benefits that the taxes pay for. And if enough people chose to be free-riding leeches rather than voluntarily good taxpaying citizens, it would only be a matter of time before such a government weakened or collapsed.
Read more at Gawker.
Photo by Phil Roeder via flickr (CC-BY).
Written by James Parrott, the Chief Economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute
For the first time in nearly five years, major labor agreements were recently reached covering public sector workers in New York City. On April 17, Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 concluded a new 5-year contract dating from January 2012 covering 34,000 workers at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), most of whom work for the subway and bus system in New York City. Two weeks later on May 1, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) reached a 9-year agreement with the City of New York stretching back to November 2009 that affects over 100,000 public school teachers and support staff.
Both contracts represented a breakthrough in ending managements’ demands for a 3-year wage freeze that had grown out of a counter-productive post-Great Recession conservative infatuation with public sector austerity, or more precisely, a mindset that held that workers had to sacrifice to help clean up the economic mess caused by financial sector excesses.
Continue reading The Significance of the TWU and UFT Labor Contracts