Last Monday was an important day for America’s shrinking middle class. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that could impose radical new limits on the rights of public-sector workers—like teachers, nurses and firefighters—to join together to win better lives for their families and communities.
What’s at stake is a basic democratic principle: All public workers that benefit from collective bargaining should be required to pay their fair share for those efforts.
So it’s no surprise that the Friedrichs lawsuit was filed by the Center for Individual Rights, a law firm with ties to anti-worker special interests—like the Koch brothers and ALEC.
These are the same interests that have spent decades campaigning to weaken the ability of working people to join together against corporate power and the interests of the One Percent.
On Monday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a lawsuit that targets Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a nearly 40-year cornerstone of labor-management relations. At stake is the principle that, although public employees who don’t join a union cannot be required to pay for the union’s political activities, they can be charged an “agency” or “fair share” fee to pay for the services that the union is required by law to provide all members.
Capital & Main asked labor attorney and Century Foundation fellow Moshe Marvit, who studied Monday’s transcripts, for his assessment of the case, whose ruling is expected by June.
Capital & Main: Were there any surprises in Monday’s arguments?
Moshe Marvit: There had been some hope that [Justice Antonin] Scalia might be a little bit more open to California’s and the union’s arguments,
Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the latest struggle over workers’ rights, a case whose oral arguments were heard Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court, clearly means different things to different groups. The passionate rhetoric around Friedrichs, and most of its proponents’ legal arguments, have focused on individual liberties and freedom of speech. “Paying fees to a union should not be a prerequisite for teaching in a public school,” Harlan Elrich, one of the plaintiffs, wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “No one in the U.S. should be forced to give money to a private organization he or she disagrees with fundamentally.”
But the main goal of those funding the case is, likely, to reshape the political landscape by neutralizing the power of organized labor. The broad impact of a successful suit will be to drain the union of dues,
Last July, 2,000 conservatives and Tea Party activists gathered in Las Vegas for the annual FreedomFest, which featured GOP presidential frontrunners Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. But it was a fourth grade public school teacher from Orange County named Rebecca Friedrichs who promised the far right a prize that neither Trump nor Rubio could offer. Friedrichs and nine other California school teachers are part of a lawsuit now before the U.S. Supreme Court that could deliver a severe blow to the nation’s public-sector unions. It would radically upend the political power of labor — and also, conservatives hope, of the Democratic Party — across the United States.
Friedrichs’ message last summer was the same as she has told audiences elsewhere: “Supposed [union] benefits are not worth the moral costs.”
The “moral dilemma,” she claims,
Next spring, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide a case that could threaten the economy and American democracy. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association asks the justices to consider overturning a 1977 Supreme Court unanimous ruling (Abood v. Detroit Board of Education) that protected the right of teachers, nurses, librarians, firefighters and other public workers to form unions. The Abood case emphasized that these workers act as the middle class’ backbone by providing quality public services and ensuring healthy communities.
In Abood, the Court ruled that every public worker who benefits from collective bargaining could be required to pay their fair share for those efforts. It’s a basic democratic principle.
For a preview of what will happen if the Court sides with the plaintiffs in Friedrichs, we should look at Wisconsin. In 2011,