Category Archives: Labor Unions

The Supreme Court Case That Could Gut Public Sector Unions

Source: Elizabeth Bruenig, New Republic, January 11, 2016

A case going to oral arguments today will have implications far beyond that of free speech. ….

….At the core of the case are “agency fees,” sometimes called “fair share fees.” 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.

But conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has long signaled that he would attempt to overturn Abood given the chance. With Friedrichs, his moment may have arrived…..

A Guide to ‘Friedrichs,’ the SCOTUS Case That Could Decimate Public Sector Unions

Source: Ben Rosenfield, In These Times, Working In These Times blog, January 11, 2016

The Supreme Court began hearing arguments today in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The plaintiff, California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs, and the organizations on the Right that are behind her are arguing that public sector employers violate individuals’ First Amendment rights by compelling employees to pay union fees. The case could in effect force all public sector unions to operate under “right-to-work” rules and decimate public sector union membership—bad news for an already battered American labor movement.

In These Times has covered the case closely since its beginning. Here, we’ve rounded up some of our articles on the case and its implications for U.S. unions….
Friedrichs Oral Argument Commentary Round-Up
Source: Juhyung Harold Lee, OnLabor blog, January 11, 2016

The Labor Prospect: Friedrichs’s Fate
Source: Justin Miller, American Prospect, January 12, 2016

Special Feature: Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association
Source: SCOTUSblog, 2016

Attack on unions shows why we need a new social contract governing work

Source: Thomas Kochan, The Conversation, January 13, 2016

….Labor legislation passed in the New Deal (minimum wages and overtime protections, social security, unemployment insurance and the right to unionize) provided the foundation for that social contract, and collective bargaining made it work by negotiating wage increases in tandem with productivity growth.

But at least in part because those policies and practices could not cope well with developments since 1980 – such as globalization and corporate short-termism – the country has experienced three decades of wage stagnation, rising income inequality and the erosion of the social safety net that was designed to ensure basic protections and minimum employment standards.

Restoring such a safety net, which would be further eroded if the Supreme Court rules against the unions, will require broadening the circle of debate to engage the powerful interest groups that don’t necessarily share the view that changes are needed…..

….Here are three high-priority ideas highlighted by participants at his gathering [White House Summit on Worker Voice] that can help us reach a new compact and deserve broader discussion.

How to wean social benefits from employment.
A major point of debate at the meeting was whether or not the economy, business and workforce would all be better off if we could sever the safety net from employers. That is, should we separate the funding and coverage for benefits such as health insurance, retirement savings and sick and family leave from individual employment relationships?…

A new way to regulate and enforce standards
Another area of discussion was how to modernize regulation and enforcement of employment standards….

Breaking the chains of our ossified labor law
Unlike the debate at the Supreme Court, participants in this meeting focused on how to rebuild bargaining power so workers have an effective voice in shaping the future of work. There was a crucial breakthrough over this issue….

Study claiming right-to-work in West Virginia will create job growth is fundamentally flawed

Source: Josh Bivens, Elise Gould, and Will Kimball, Briefing Paper #417, January 14, 2016

From the press release:
A recent paper on so-called right-to-work laws relies on flawed data and analysis, according to research by Economic Policy Institute economists Elise Gould and Josh Bivens and research analyst Will Kimball. Gould, Bivens, and Kimball analyze a recent paper by West Virginia University (WVU) School of Business researchers John Deskins, Eric Bowen, and Christiadi, and find that that the study relies on questionable research methods that skewed the results in favor of right-to-work legislation.
Deskins, Bowen, and Christiadi attempt to analyze the effect of right-to-work laws on employment. However, their paper does not have sufficient variation in right-to-work status within states during the study period to reach conclusive results. The authors misidentify Texas and Utah as having not been right-to-work states when in fact they were, leaving only one state that switched to right to work during their study period. Furthermore, the authors failed to include state fixed effects in their analysis—the industry standard for this type of research—which account for economic shocks or characteristics that are particular to a given state and not controlled for in other variables in the model…..
The Economic Impact of Right to Work Policy in West Virginia
Source: John Deskins, Eric Bowen, and Christiadi, West Virginia University College of Business and Economics, November 2015
(Funding for this research was provided by the West Virginia Legislature)

What Do Unions Do for the Middle Class?

Source: Richard Freeman, Eunice Han, Brendan Duke, David Madland, Center for American Progress, January 2016

From the introduction:
….This report examines the role that the decline of labor unions over the past 30 years has played in the hollowing out of the U.S. earnings distribution. We* expect that the decline of unions has reduced the share of middle-class workers because union workers are more likely to be middle class than nonunion workers. Unions represent workers in the middle of the income distribution, which raises the earnings of workers who would otherwise fall below the middle-class threshold. We call the higher share of union workers among middle-class workers the union equality effect.

In this report, we use a technique—known as a shift-share decomposition—that breaks down the falling share of middle-class workers into three factors associated with unionism:
– The first part is due to the decline in union coverage, namely the fact that when a smaller share of workers are in unions, fewer workers benefit from the union equality effect.
– The second part is due to a decline in the union equality effect. As earnings have polarized over the past 30 years, the middle-class share of union workers fell from 83 percent to 72 percent, which is more than the decrease in the share of nonunion workers in the middle class. This reduces the union equality effect.
– The third part is associated with the interaction between the decline in union coverage and the union equality effect.

The decomposition leaves a residual part with no direct connection to unionism that is instead due to the decline in the middle-class share of nonunion workers.

Our main findings are that the decline in union coverage accounts for 35 percent of the falling share of middle-class workers and that the combination of the shrinking share of union workers and the reduction in the union equality effect explains almost half of the decline in middle-class workers. To the extent that union-induced wage increases spill over from union to nonunion workers and that union advocacy produces economic and social policies that benefit the middle class, our results understate the impact of the weakening labor movement on the hollowing out of the U.S. middle class…..

Free Riders or Compelled Riders? Key Takeaways as Court Considers Major Union Dues Case

Source: Congressional Research Service, CRS Legal Sidebar, January 12, 2016

….Regardless of the ultimate outcome in Friedrichs, the case will likely be a major decision that revisits the Court’s compelled subsidization cases, which, in practical terms, could impact over seven million public employees throughout the nation and could possibly affect the current debate over how to address fiscal pressures mounting in states facing billions of dollars in obligations to their respective public employees. More broadly, Friedrichs could raise new constraints on Congress when compelling individuals to subsidize the speech of a private party, including outside of the context of labor law. The Court should resolve the fate of Abood by June 2016…..

Friedrichs Oral Argument Transcript

Source: Juhyung Harold Lee, OnLabor blog, January 11, 2016

The Supreme Court has released a transcript of this morning’s oral argument in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. As OnLabor contributors have previously noted, Justice Scalia has been identified as the potential swing vote in the case. However, this early exchange between petitioners’ counsel (Michael Carvin of Jones Day) and Justice Scalia does not seem to bode well for the Friedrichs respondents: …..

SCOTUS v. the American worker: The upcoming Supreme Court case that could explode inequality

Source: Liz Kennedy, Salon, January 8, 2016

The Roberts court will hear oral arguments on Monday in a case that could determine the future of organized labor. …. The case, Friedrichs v. CTA, is ostensibly about one teacher’s right to not join her teachers union, but that choice is already available to any worker everywhere in America. This case is really just another attack on workers’ ability to join together and make their voices heard…… The true force behind the case is the Center for Individual Rights, a group that has driven it on a frenzied course through the legal system since filing suit in the district court in April 2013. The group, funded by the Koch brothers and others determined to continue manipulating the rules of our economy — and our democracy — fast-tracked the case through the district and 9th circuit courts to bring it to Chief Justice Roberts’ Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments on Monday. …..

Argument preview: New threat to public-employee unions

Source: Lyle Denniston, SCOTUSblog, January 4, 2016

Next Monday, January 11, when the Supreme Court returns from its holiday recess, it will devote an expanded argument to a case that has made unions which represent government workers deeply fearful for their financial future and their public stature. A significant blow to their treasuries could come if non-union workers are able to turn broad hints by the Supreme Court into final victory in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

Since 1977, the Court has allowed public-sector unions to charge the non-members whom they represent fees to cover the cost of bargaining over working conditions that will benefit those non-members as well as the union’s own ranks on the payroll. They cannot charge a fee to cover union political activity, such as lobbying or campaign spending. But, applying a bit of elementary logic, a group of non-union teachers in California seeks to nullify even bargaining-related fees.

How Defunding Public Sector Unions Will Diminish Our Democracy: The High Stakes of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

Source: Richard D. Kahlenberg, The Century Foundation, Issue Brief, January 7, 2016

From the summary:
On January 11, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The case pits the right of public employees to band together and form effective unions to pursue the common interests of workers against the free speech rights of dissenting public employees to abstain from funding collective bargaining efforts with which they disagree.1 A decision by the Court against the teachers association could not only significantly weaken public sector unions, but also endanger the nation’s core democratic values. …. The report proceeds in four parts. Part I analyzes the claims in Friedrichs under the current framework of balancing envisioned by the Supreme Court, and concludes that fair share fees are justified. Part II broadens the discussion to consider the state’s powerful interest in promoting institutions that strengthen American democracy. Part III considers an objection raised by supporters of Friedrichs: that public sector unions will do just fine if they lose the Friedrichs case. Part IV concludes…..