On Monday, Jan. 11, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that seeks to undermine our rights to negotiate for fair pay and benefits that sustain our families.
“All working people should be concerned about a case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association,” said AFSCME Council 5 President Judy Wahlberg. “The lawsuit is bankrolled by the Center for Individual Rights, a front group for wealthy extremists. This time their hostility is aimed at public employees – teachers, nurses, firefighters and other public workers who serve our communities.”
Wahlberg said a bad decision “could have devastating consequences for working people nationwide.”
A negative ruling could tear down the labor laws that have protected workers for decades. That would make it harder for the average American to negotiate for the wages and benefits of a middle class life. It would make it tougher to stand up for safer workplaces and patient care, better schools and stronger communities.
“At a time when budgets are tight and the demand for services remains high, local governments and states need to maintain the authority to organize our own internal operations to meet the needs of our citizens,” said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, adding that unions have helped set standards for workplace conditions, improved service delivery, provided training and worked to preserve state aid for St. Paul.
“The corporate interests behind this case want to diminish the standards we have set for working families in St. Paul,” Coleman said. “We want to preserve our system. It works well, and we do not want or need those outsiders to impose their will on our city.”
Those behind Friedrichs argue that paying a “fair share” of union dues precludes freedom of speech. But paying political dues is voluntary, and employees have the right to choose not to join. The law requires unions to represent everyone in a workplace, member or not. It’s only fair that fee payers help with the cost of winning better wages, benefits, pensions and working conditions, which they enjoy too.
The free speech argument is really just a smokescreen. Many of the Center for Individual Rights’ funders are the same union-busting forces behind Gov. Walker’s brutal efforts in Wisconsin. Public employees there already have experienced pay freezes on top of a 12 percent pay cut and had to contribute $3 billion more toward benefits between 2011 and 2014.
These anti-union forces won’t be satisfied until they make the entire U.S. a so-called “Right to Work” nation: the right to work for lower wages, fewer benefits and a lower quality of life.
Getting ahead used to be for all of us. If we worked hard and played by the rules, we could do well, and our children and grandchildren could do even better.
“Success shouldn’t depend on being born into wealth or privilege,” Wahlberg said. “But that’s not the way it works anymore – especially for people who don’t belong to a strong union.”
Our economic policy and laws already favor big corporate interests and the rich, who know how to bend these rules in their favor. Some CEOs earn 300 times more than a typical worker, and bankers can pay a lower tax rate than a secretary. A negative ruling would give wealthy extremists even more power and shrink the middle class even more.
Women and people of color stand to lose the most. Union women earn $212 more per week than their non-union counterparts. Black union women earn 34 percent more, and Latinas a whopping 46 percent more.
But it’s not just our union brothers and sisters whom a bad ruling would impact. They say a rising tide lifts all boats, and that’s true. When we fight for a living wage and a working class life, wages and benefits go up for everyone.
Unions fight to improve our infrastructure, to better our schools, to make our working conditions safer, and to strengthen our communities. A bad ruling could weaken our voice and dim our power.
We won’t be silenced by wealthy extremists who want to run our country unchallenged. Our parents and grandparents fought for unions to make life better for us, and we’ll do the same for the generations that follow us.
“Unions are still the answer,” Wahlberg said. “We want the Supreme Court to know that our unions are a powerful force for upward mobility and economic security in America.”