By MIKE LEE
In Washington D.C., on a cold but sunny winter’s morning on Jan. 11, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.
This court case will decide the fate of millions of Americans–in particular unionized public service workers and their families.
A ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would severely undermine the ability of public employee unions to protect the rights and jobs of teachers, nurses, and other public sector employees.
The Supreme Court will decide whether public employee unions have the right to collect agency fees from workers covered by collective bargaining agreements who are not members of the union even though they benefit from the raises and the vast array benefits from the contracts the union negotiates on their behalf.
That morning, hundreds of labor activists gathered at the steps of the Supreme Court to support the legal team representing the California Teachers Association.
A group of DC 37 members, activists and leaders, including DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido, were among the labor demonstrators. The DC 37 group was there to represent the hardworking public service workers who are on the frontline serving communities nationwide.
Meanwhile, at workplaces in New York City, DC 37 members showed their union solidarity by participating in the council’s “Say it Loud: We’re Union and Proud” grassroots campaign on Friedrichs.
Union members arrived at work wearing Union and Proud buttons. They wore DC 37 T-shirts and dressed in DC 37’s green in open support of the union.
The action was a defiant protest against the radical right-wing corporate interests behind legal efforts to break the labor movement with court cases such as Friedrichs.
With an American economy swinging out of balance that threatens the very survival of the middle class, corporate CEOs and cynical ideologues representing the special interests of the 1 percent seek to dismantle decades of gains by labor movement. With the support of GOP governors and working through the court system court system and Republican-controlled state legislatures, anti-union interests are systematically chipping away at collective bargaining rights and gutting the achievements of the labor movement.
Following the example of Gov. Scott Walker’s success in smashing public-employee unions and slashing health and other benefits of public employees in Wisconsin, dark conservative forces are focused on a nationwide assault to dismember public worker unions through Friedrichs and a series of other cases expected to reach the deeply ideologically divided Supreme Court.
In their arguments before the Supreme Court, attorneys representing the California Teachers Association stressed the importance of agency fees in maintaining labor peace in the workplace.
In his argument before the court, California’s Solicitor General Edward DuMont said, “But once the majority has said this is our representative, then that it is going to represent all employees. And it’s important then, from the employer’s point of view, that that representative be adequately funded and stably funded, so that they can work with us or work with the employer to reach actual progress.”
Echoing DuMont, David C. Frederick, the attorney for the California Teachers Association. told the court that the agency fee system “enables all of the workers to know they are making a shared sacrifice for the purpose of working together to establish a coherent position with their employer.”
Frederick warned the court, by doing away with agency fees, would “substantially disrupt established First Amendment doctrine and labor management systems in nearly half the country.”
A decision in Friedrichs is expected in June.