mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“This Is No Small Development”: Supreme Court Split Saves Public-Sector Unions

Republicans have made no secret of the fact that they fear the Supreme Court moving to the left, even a little, in the wake of Antonin Scalia’s death. But we were reminded this morning that in the late justice’s absence, the high court’s capacity for conservative change has already been curtailed.

CNBC reported on the release of a decision that wasn’t expected until June.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday split 4-4 on a conservative legal challenge to a vital source of funds for organized labor, affirming a lower-court ruling that allowed California to force non-union workers to pay fees to public-employee unions.

The court, shorthanded after the Feb. 13 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and evenly divided with four liberal and four conservative members, left intact a 1977 legal precedent that allowed such fees, which add up to millions of dollars a year for unions.

The case is called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, and the Supreme Court’s “decision,” such as it is, has been posted online here. It’s extraordinarily brief, however: it reads in its entirety, “Per Curium. The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

This is no small development. At issue in this case was a seemingly obscure issue – public-sector unions’ “agency fees” – but while this may seem like a tangential dispute, the outcome had the potential to disrupt many labor unions nationwide.

Revisiting our previous coverageThe New Republic’s Elizabeth Bruenig summarized the issue this way:

Agency fees work like this: Public sector unions are required to cover all employees in a given bargaining unit, whether the employees opt into union membership or not. Public sector employees (which include EMTs, firefighters, public school teachers, social workers, and more) thus pay agency fees to their respective unions even if they are not union members, because public sector unions work on behalf of everyone in their bargaining unit, not just union members.

Agency fees do not fund unions’ political activities, but rather strictly the costs of union grievance-handling, organizing, and collective bargaining. In the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court upheld the right of public sector unions to extract agency fees from public sector workers, and found that agency fees do not violate employees’ freedom of speech, so long as they do not fund unions’ political activities.

The trouble, according to many on the right, is that literally everything unions do – even collective bargaining itself – is inherently political, even if it’s unrelated to campaign activities. As a result, the Friedrichs case offered the justices an opportunity to overturn the Abood precedent.

And if Scalia had lived, that’s almost certainly what the justices would have done in a 5-4 decision. Instead, the court was evenly split.

Make no mistake: this case represented a major threat to the existence of unions that rely on agency fees. Had the court sided with the right, public-sector unions would still bargain on behalf of public-sector workers – union members and non-members alike – but workers’ dues would have been voluntary.

This case will go back to the Supreme Court again in the not-too-distant future, but for now, a 4-4 split saved public-sector unions, leaving them to fight another day.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 29, 2016

March 30, 2016 Posted by | Public Sector Unions, Republicans, SCOTUS | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Like Pandas At The Zoo”: Such a Curiosity, Those White Working-Class Voters

The headline: “Millions of ordinary Americans support Donald Trump.” Immediately, I bristled.

Here we go again.

“Ordinary” Americans. We know what that’s supposed to mean. Plain people. Malleable people. Nothing-exceptional-about-them people. Every four years, these white working-class voters become objects of curiosity like pandas at the zoo.

These are the people I come from. Many of their children grew up to do the same kind of work their parents did — but for less money and benefits and with fewer job protections. Make that no job protection — unless they’re in a union, which is increasingly unlikely. As NPR reported last year, nearly a third of American workers belonged to a union 50 years ago. Today 1 in 10 are union members.

I wonder how many of my fellow liberals in the pundit class have ever stepped foot in a union hall. We all talk about the importance of organized labor, but how many of us union kids are left? It matters, I think, in telling this story. If you don’t know any working-class voters, then it’s much easier to portray them as angry, racist and xenophobic — lemmings slogging their way toward the cliff’s edge, dragging their expired lives behind them.

Earlier this week, I shared on Facebook a photo of an abandoned union hall tweeted by MSNBC reporter Tony Dokoupil. “It’s like touring the Titanic,” he wrote.

The room was dark and still, but folding chairs still circled a dozen or so round tabletops, as if the union’s annual Christmas party were just around the corner. My father was a utility worker, and the union hall was the one place where I could always count on seeing my parents relaxed and happy. They danced and laughed and let us kids eat as much dessert as we wanted. We were a boisterous collection of families celebrating our bigger family. Even as children, we understood why we were sticking with the union.

This Trump phenomenon has made me testy, I fear. “Why start off angry?” my mother would say if she were alive. “There’s already enough of that in the world.” She was your typical working-class mom, believing each of us had the power to change the world with kindness.

That headline I hated topped a Guardian story I appreciated by Thomas Frank, the author of “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” In the story, which is gaining traction on social media, Frank takes to task the many liberals who cast white working-class Trump voters as mere reflections of his darkest inclinations.

The problem, Frank writes, is that too few of us are actually asking these voters what is on their minds.

“When people talk to white, working-class Trump supporters, instead of simply imagining what they might say, they find that what most concerns these people is the economy and their place in it,” Frank writes. “I am referring to a study just published by Working America, a political-action auxiliary of the AFL-CIO, which interviewed some 1,600 white working-class voters in the suburbs of Cleveland and Pittsburgh in December and January.

“Support for Donald Trump, the group found, ran strong among these people, even among self-identified Democrats, but not because they are all pining for a racist in the White House. Their favorite aspect of Trump was his ‘attitude’, the blunt and forthright way he talks. As far as issues are concerned, ‘immigration’ placed third among the matters such voters care about, far behind their number one concern: ‘good jobs/the economy’.”

This is not to say that many of them are not also racist, sexist and xenophobic. Just as with any other demographic group, there is the worst among them, and we have seen too many of them at their ugliest.

But most of them know that their current appeal to presidential candidates and the gawking media is as fleeting as it is intense. They know what’s coming.

Win or lose, Trump will continue to enjoy a privileged, high-profile life, leaving behind the ordinary Americans who thought he meant it when he said, “I love you people.”

They will return to the same stack of bills and low-paying jobs and the stress that is unraveling their lives. They will keep their prayers simple: May the car last another season; may the baby’s cough not turn into a prescription for antibiotics; may love prevail.

Forgotten again by the media, the ordinary Americans will say goodbye to loved ones and bury their dead. They will bow their heads, maybe recite the prayers of their childhood. They will close their eyes tight and try not to think about how broken dreams have a way of sucking the life out of you long before you die.

 

By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and Professional in Residence at Kent State University’s School of Journalism; The National Memo, March 10, 2016

March 12, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Unions, White Working Class | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Defending Unions Against The Haters”: Right-To-Work Laws Are Intended To Limit Union Growth

Joining a union is the best investment a worker can make.

Unions need defending, maybe more than ever, because of the attacks they face. The passage of a right-to-work law in Wisconsin and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposal for union-free zones show how distorted the lens is when the focus turns to organized labor.

Right-to-work laws are intended to limit union growth, but advocates never cite political motives or antipathy for working people. Instead, their calls for reducing labor market protections are based on the claim that unions restrain personal liberty and restrict economic development.

Nothing is further from the truth.

The “labor hater,” as Martin Luther King Jr. once called the corporate and political conservatives who mobilize against organized labor, argues that if you reduce unionization, economic prosperity will be unleashed. Yes, but for whom? Restricting union growth has always been bad for workers’ economic and political freedom. The cumulative weight of decades of social science has unquestionably demonstrated that union-bargained contracts provide workers with higher incomes, more and better benefits, and a stronger “voice” in the workplace.

Implementing a statewide right-to-work law in Illinois would be punitive for working men and women. According to a 2013 University of Illinois study that I co-authored, workers would suffer an income loss of 5.7 percent to 7.3 percent. Additionally, fewer workers would have health and retirement benefits, and with workers earning less, poverty would likely rise by 1 percent.

As King warned in the 1960s, after mostly Southern states moved to adopt right-to-work, the losses would be particularly harsh on people of color. Per-hour work incomes are at least $2.49 lower in right-to-work states for African-American, Latino, and Asian workers, compared with their wages in collective bargaining states. With lower earnings, annual state income tax revenues in Illinois would shrink by $1.5 billion.

To be fair, Rauner has not called for a statewide law. So what would the effects of a more limited local jurisdiction approach be on Illinois workers?

The premise of the local zones is that unionization suppresses job growth. But like so many claims for opposing policies that protect workers, the criticism doesn’t hold up.

A look at recent data for the Chicago area suggests that union membership levels have no direct correlation to higher unemployment. The opposite’s true, in fact. Around Chicago in 2013, the county with the fewest union members had the six-county area’s highest unemployment rate.

When you look more broadly, you find that the average unemployment rate for all eastern Illinois counties bordering right-to-work Indiana was 5.7 percent, compared with 7.6 percent for those Indiana counties just across the border. And while right-to-work prophets predict a paradise of unparalleled job creation, in 2014, Illinois added 103,000 jobs (fourth highest in the nation), compared with Indiana’s 89,000.

Union defenders should never suggest that collective bargaining is either the primary or sole driver of job creation; nor should right-to-work supporters argue that limiting union dues is a sure-fire way to put people to work.

What is assured is that the loss of income that would result from a reduction of union members will exacerbate existing income disparities. If just half of Illinois’ counties transitioned into “union free zones,” total employee compensation would drop an estimated $1.2 billion.

It’s also possible that with or without right-to-work, employment could spike in Illinois. For example, the state could take up large-scale hydraulic fracturing. But no matter the reasons that jobs appear, what is important is how the workers are valued.

 

By:Robert Bruno, Professor of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; The National Memo, March 20, 2015

March 23, 2015 Posted by | Illinois, Right To Work Laws, Unions | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“New GOP Meaning Of Terrorist Warnings”: What’s A ‘Credible Threat’ In Wisconsin? Unions

On Tuesday evening, a Republican committee chairman in the Wisconsin state senate, Stephen Nass, cut short a hearing on an anti-union bill, citing a “credible threat” that union members were about to disrupt the proceedings.

Credible threat? That’s the phrase used in terrorist warnings. But the only union members in Madison were the estimated 1,800 to 2,000 workers, many of them wearing hard hats and heavy coats, who’d gathered peacefully in and around the Capitol during the day to oppose  the bill. They believe it’s an attack on working families designed to weaken organized labor – which it is.

So who was credibly threatening whom?

The Service Employees International Union, which represents low-wage service workers, had planned to protest the committee’s scheduled hard stop of testimony at 7 p.m., because the cut-off was too early to accommodate everyone who wanted to be heard. To avoid that, all the committee chairman had to do was extend the hearing. Instead, by ending it abruptly, dozens of people who had been waiting all day for the chance to speak were deprived of that opportunity – even as the Republican majority on the committee hastily voted to send the bill to the full Senate.

Not surprisingly, when the meeting ended early those who had been waiting erupted in anger and indignation, shouting profanities and “shame,” according to the A.P., and creating so much noise that the roll call vote could not be heard. The result — 3 Republicans in favor, 1 Democrat against and 1 Democrat who didn’t vote because he wanted more debate — was announced later.  For someone so concerned about avoiding a disruption, Mr. Nass didn’t seem too concerned about causing one.

Mr. Nass later said he didn’t want protestors to disrupt the meeting the way they did hearings on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s measure in 2011 to strip public unions of collective bargaining rights. Leaving aside the fact that those rallies lasted for weeks and drew up to 100,000, Mr. Nass said the protestors were trying to “take over the process of representing all of the people of this great state.”

Where does one start to unpack that? The protestors are the people of the great state. The bill in question threatens their pay, their jobs and their values.  They were trying to participate in the process. Democracy, anyone?

 

By: Teresa Tritch, Taking Note, Editorial Page Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, February 25, 2015

February 27, 2015 Posted by | Scott Walker, Terrorists, Unions, Wisconsin Legislature | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Revival Of 20th Century Lochner”: The Roberts Court Thinks Corporations Have More Rights Than You Do

The Supreme Court of the mid-twentieth century led a First Amendment revolution, turning a rarely enforced constitutional provision into the crown jewel of our Bill of Rights. While these rulings protected the speech of all Americans, they most frequently came in cases involving disfavored or even despised litigants, from Jehovah’s Witnesses to Nazi sympathizers. The Roberts Court is leading a free speech revolution of its own, but this time for the benefit of corporations and the wealthy.

This revolution is unfolding across a wide range of First Amendment provisions and doctrines, from Citizens United v. FEC, which protects political speech by corporations to Sorrell v. IMS, which makes it easier for corporations to challenge laws that regulate commercial speech. Today’s bitterly divided rulings in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn continue this trend by turning the First Amendment’s protection for the free exercise of religion and freedom of association into a sword to free corporations and other powerful interests from government regulation. More than the Court’s earlier First Amendment revolution, this series of deeply divided rulings resembles the aggressive, divisive, and now overturned rulings of the Lochner era, named after the infamous 1905 case Lochner v. New York, one of a number of cases in which the Supreme Court of the early twentieth century that struck down laws designed to prevent the exploitation of workers. During this era, the Supreme Court repeatedly expanded the constitutional rights of corporations and other businesses while dismissively treating the government’s interest in economic regulation. Today, we are seeing a revival of Lochner in the name of protecting free speech and free exercise of religion.

This story, of course, begins in earnest with the 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, the case that, perhaps more than any other, defines the Roberts Court. There the Court’s five conservatives united to hold that the Constitution gives corporations the right to spend unlimited sums of money on elections. Corporations cannot vote in elections, run for office, or serve as elected officials, but the Court nevertheless ruled that they can overwhelm the political process by using money generated by special privileges that corporations alone possess. In 2011, the Court continued this corporate-friendly trend in Sorrell v. IMS, holding that forms of market research, such as data mining, are “speech” protected by the First Amendment.

This term, Chief Justice Roberts has opened new fronts in his First Amendment revolution. Prior to 2014, the Supreme Court had never held that a secular, for-profit corporation is entitled to protections for the free exercise of religion and had never struck down a federal law limiting campaign contributions. This year, the conservative Justices did both. In both cases, the Court’s conservative majority built off of Citizens United. In Hobby Lobby, in an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, the Court held that closely-held, secular, for-profit corporations were entitled to the guarantee of the free exercise of religion, treating corporations simply as the artificial embodiment of its owner or shareholders. Dismissing the fact that corporations cannot pray and have never, in more than two centuries, been conferred with rights of conscience and human dignity, the Court’s conservative bloc concluded that secular for-profit corporations are entitled to a religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employer-sponsored health insurance plans cover the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives. The Court’s opinionthe first in history to require a religious exemption from generally-applicable regulation be given to a commercial enterpriseexalts the rights of corporations over those of individuals, giving corporations the right to impose their owners’ religious beliefs and extinguish the rights of their employees. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg detailed in a powerful dissenting opinion, the majority abandoned constitutional principles and precedent and empowered commercial enterprises to “deny legions of women who do not hold their employees’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage.”

While framed as a narrow minimalist ruling, Justice Alito’s opinion in Hobby Lobby is anything but. First, its central holding strongly suggests that all corporationsnot merely those like Hobby Lobby that are closely-heldare entitled to demand religious exemptions from generally-applicable business regulation. Second, its reasoning invites an avalanche of new claims by corporations and others for religious exemptions, making it very difficult for the government to defeat claims for religious exemptions, even when those exemptions extinguish the rights of employees. The Court’s opinion, as Justice Ginsburg explained, opens the floodgates for a number of “me too” religious objections by other companies on matters ranging from anti-discrimination law to other medical procedures such as blood transfusions or vaccinations.

Earlier this term, in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Court’s conservatives continued their assault on the nation’s campaign finance laws, striking down the federal aggregate limit that permitted individuals to contribute up to $123,000 to candidates per election cycle and opening the floodgates to the wealthiest Americans to contribute millions of dollars at a time to elect candidates to do their bidding. As in Citizens United, the conservative majority turned a blind eye both to constitutional principle and reality, treating the $123,000 contribution limit as an especially severe burden on freedom of speech and artificially limiting the government interest in ensuring electoral integrity to cases of bribery. To the Founders, preventing corruption of the government was at the core of the Constitution, necessary to ensure, as Madison put it, that government was “dependent on the people alone” and that our system of representative democracy remained “not [for] the rich more than the poor.” Rather than grappling with the government’s authority to ensure electoral integrityan interest deeply rooted in the Constitution’s text and historyChief Justice Roberts caricatured it. While campaign contribution limits still remain, it seems only a matter of time before those too are invalidated by the Roberts’ conservative majority.

Harris, too, represented a fundamental reinterpretation of the First Amendment, striking down an Illinois law that allowed public-sector unions for home health care workers to collect fees from non-union workers to cover the costs of a union’s bargaining activities. In doing so, Justice Alito dismissed a long line of precedents going back nearly 40 years that had upheld precisely these kinds of arrangements, dealing a serious blow to organized labor. In past cases, the Roberts Court has upheld government regulation of employee speech, giving the government broad leeway in choosing how to run a workplace. But, in a stark about face, Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion ratcheted up the First Amendment rights of anti-union employees, powerfully illustrating Adam Liptak’s observation that in the Roberts Court, “[f]ree speech often means speech I agree with.” In a blistering dissent, Justice Elena Kagan argued that the Court’s conservative majority was perverting established First Amendment law, effectively creating a special set of First Amendment principles only for union fee cases.

Justice Alito’s opinion in Harris invites anti-union activists to file a host of new lawsuits aimed at state laws that allow public-sector unions to collect the costs of collective bargaining from union and non-union member alike. Indeed, much of the Harris opinion is devoted to showing why the past precedent in this area is wrong and ought to be overruled. These precedents survive, if at all, by a thread.

Chief Justice John Roberts is known for playing the long game, issuing decisions that, quietly but decisively, move the law to the right. His greatest successes in this area have come in campaign finance cases, where in just a decade, the Court’s opinions have decimated campaign finance law. Today’s decisions in Hobby Lobby and Harris open new avenues for corporate interests looking to attack regulation, and in years to come we are certain to see a host of new challenges to business regulation, all in the name of free speech or free exercise. In the Roberts Court, the First Amendment is a powerful weapon, not for the street corner speaker, but for corporations and wealthy seeking to squelch regulation.

 

By: David H. Gans, Director of the Human Rights, Civil Rights, and Citizenship Program at Constitutional Accountability Center; The New Republic, July 1, 2014

July 2, 2014 Posted by | Citizens United, Hobby Lobby, John Roberts, SCOTUS | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

%d bloggers like this: