June was not kind to Big Labor. First, teachers unions in California had some of their favorite work rules knocked out of the state constitution by Judge Rolf Treu in his Vergara decision. Then, on the last day of the month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Harris v Quinn and ruled homecare workers could not be forced to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Vergara upset the teachers union Pooh-Bahs who just can’t believe educators who hang on to their jobs for 16 months aren’t entitled to them for life regardless of whether they’re good, mediocre, or teachers from hell. The decision is going to be appealed, and no one knows, if the appeal fails, how the subsequent replacement laws will play out. But if Vergara got the unions in a snit, Harris has pushed them into apoplexy.
Regarding Harris, I searched the Internet long and hard to find a statement from a union leader that went something like this: “The decision doesn’t harm the union movement in the least. It gives hard-working men and women the freedom to choose whether or not to join us. If they do join, they will enjoy the benefits and perks that come with union membership. If they choose not to join, we will not force them to. They are free to make whatever deal they and their employer agree to. As patriotic Americans, we believe in liberty, and that means giving all workers a choice.”
Okay, I confess. I really didn’t search long and hard. In fact, I didn’t search at all; it would have been a complete waste of time. Instead, we were treated to union leaders doing what they usually do when they don’t get their way: trotting out the usual half-truths, fear-mongering, and lies to rally the troops and garner public sympathy.
Nothing Fair about Force
“This court has built a record of weakening the rights of both voters and working families; no one should be surprised by this decision,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in a statement.
Weingarten is saying one working family has a right to force a member of another working family into a union.
According to Chalkbeat New York, “Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, defended the ‘fair share’ practice. ‘Fair share simply makes sure that all educators share the cost of negotiations for benefits that all educators enjoy, regardless of whether they are association members.'” There is nothing fair about forcing a worker to pay dues to an organization that he or she does not want to belong to.
Mind you, Harris was a narrow decision. Justice Samuel Alito’s ruling drew a distinction between the home care workers and ‘full-fledged’ public employees “who were required to pay union dues under the Court’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education precedent in 1977. In that sense unions dodged a more sweeping decision that could have jeopardized dues payments from all public workers.”
But—and this is what’s scaring the spit out of unionistas—Alito added Abood (which maintains it is illegal to withhold forced dues from dissenters beyond the cost of collective bargaining) is “questionable on several grounds.” Collective bargaining issues, he wrote, “are inherently political in the public sector”:
In the private sector, the line is easier to see. Collective bargaining concerns the union’s dealings with the employer; political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government… But in the public sector, both collective bargaining and political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government. (Emphasis added.)
Clearly, Alito left the door open for the court to do an “Abood face.” The next shoe that drops could lead to the unions’ worst nightmare: making union membership optional nationwide. At this time, 26 states are forced-union states, and 24 are right-to-work.
Another Potential Blow to Unions
In fact, that “next shoe” is awaiting a fitting. Friedrichs et al v. CTA is on a path to reach the U.S Supreme Court within a year or two. This litigation has ten teachers and the Christian Educators Association International—a union alternative—taking on the California Teachers Association with a lawsuit aimed squarely at California’s “agency-shop” law which forces teachers to pay dues for collective bargaining, although—per Abood—paying for the unions’ political agenda is not mandatory. The plaintiffs’ lawyers argue collective bargaining is inherently political and thus all union dues should be voluntary.
Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, a public interest law firm representing Rebecca Friedrichs and her co-plaintiffs, was upbeat after the Harris ruling was announced: “Today’s decision is a good sign of things to come. The Court will soon have before it another union dues case, one that asks it to recognize the First Amendment rights of all employees to decide whether to pay union dues, not just home healthcare workers.”
If Friedrichs is successful and the court overturns Abood, workers will have a choice. To paraphrase President Obama, “If you like your union, you can keep your union.” But if you don’t, you can’t be forced to join or to stay. Freedom of choice—sounds like the American way to me.
Larry Sand ([email protected]), a former classroom teacher, is the president of the nonprofit California Teachers Empowerment Network.
Image by Reputation Management.