Assault on Public Employee Unions Fizzles at the Supreme Court

by on April 1, 2016 · 2 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, History, Labor, Media, Politics, San Diego

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association Gets Split Decision

By Doug Porter

Friedrichs-v.-California-Teachers-AssociationRebecca Friedrichs, the elementary school teacher honored with a ‘Torch of Freedom Award’ at the San Diego County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln-Reagan dinner last weekend, won’t be celebrating this weekend.

[On Tuesday, March 29th], in a single-sentence order, the Supreme Court announced that the judgment of a lower court rejecting an effort to defund public sector unions “is affirmed by an equally divided court.”. A four-decade-old opinion protecting public sector unions will live to see another day.

Friederichs and nine other teachers served as plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought by the conservative Center for Individual Rights (CIR) and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The claim being made was that the free speech rights of non-union members entitled them to contribute nothing to the costs of representation, even if they’d already opted out of fees supporting unions’ political activities.

When the case was argued before the Supreme Court back in January, an astroturf demonstration supporting the plaintiffs was organized by the State Policy Network (SPN), a network of state-based “think tanks,”with close ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and Americans for Prosperity. Both groups are funded by the Koch Brothers, along with other well known right wing donors.

The case wasn’t really about justice, it was a carefully crafted vehicle to get the Supreme Court to make a ruling with potentially dire consequences for public unions.

From the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch:

When CIR first filed its lawsuit in California, they didn’t demand their day in court. They literally did not care what the lower courts had to say about its case. The group made the unusual request that the California District Court rule against them, and in favor of the unions, so they could get the case to SCOTUS as quickly as possible.

In 2013, a California court granted CIR’s request, and in 2014, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed without argument. In 2015, CIR asked the Supreme Court to take up the case, and the Court agreed.

The strategy is “nefarious,” Frank Deale, a professor at the CUNY School of Law told American Prospect. “In fact, it’s collusive, in a way. You’re setting up this false scenario, this false conflict, in order to get a Supreme Court ruling. The Center for Individual Rights didn’t even make an argument [in the lower-court filings]. They asked for the court to rule for the defendant, and then they got rewarded for it.”

The right-wing strategy failed to come to fruition when the court’s most conservative justice passed away.

From The New York Times:

When the case was argued in January, the court’s conservative majority seemed ready to say that forcing public workers to support unions they had declined to join violates the First Amendment.

But the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February changed the balance of power in the case, which was brought by California public schoolteachers who chose not to join unions and objected to paying for the unions’ collective bargaining activities on their behalf.

A ruling in the teachers’ favor would have affected millions of government workers and weakened public-sector unions, which stood to lose fees from both workers who objected to the positions the unions take and those who simply chose not to join while benefiting from the unions’ efforts on their behalf.

In Other Labor News …

Ripples from the Governor’s Minimum Wage Press Conference

As expected yesterday, California Gov. Jerry Brown stood with legislators, union leaders and low wage employees yesterday to announce that a deal had been struck, raising the state minimum wage to $15 in steps over the next few years.

From the Los Angeles Times:

“I’m hoping that what happens in California will not stay in California, but spread all across the country,” Brown said a news conference at the state Capitol, surrounded by Democrats and labor union leaders. “It’s a matter of economic justice. It makes sense….”

…Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said 5.6 million people, or one in three California workers, would get a raise. The measure, which is expected to win approval in both chambers of the Democratic-controlled Legislature, would not change any local laws providing for higher wages, such as those in the city of Los Angeles and L.A. County.

The brokered deal, now on an expedited timetable for a vote before the end of the week, is expected to cancel two separate labor-sponsored efforts to place a wage increase initiative on the November ballot. The phased series of increases in the minimum wage is on a slower timetable than union leaders had proposed in their ballot measure efforts, but they said the agreement represents real progress.

For those wanting details, here’s Gov. Jerry Brown’s Office: Fact Sheet Boosting Californias Minimum Wage

A press conference doesn’t necessarily translate into signed legislation, and Gov. Brown was ready with a warning for those inclined to oppose it.

From the Sacramento Business Journal:

“I think very few business people will lobby against this bill, because then they will just be cutting their own throat,” Brown said at a Monday press conference.

Several business groups, however, say they have been left out of the deal and expect to rally against it. The California Restaurant Association received no advance briefing on the current deal, despite the fact that it has been negotiating on minimum wage in the Capitol for months, said Matt Sutton, vice president of government affairs.

Sutton downplayed the idea that the deal already has the needed votes in the Legislature, characterizing the deal as an agreement between Brown and organized labor.

SHOCKING: UT Editorial Board is Okay With Wage Hike (For Now)

flat earthThe Union-Tribune’s journey away from the right edge of Papa Doug’s flat earth continues, as the editorial board has given notice that it’s willing to wait and see about the proposed increase in the state minimum wage.

We could argue about what might happen if the minimum wage is raised at a time when years of stagnant wages have fueled voter anger and populist presidential campaigns. Or we could embrace what seems to be inevitable change with important safeguards now and see what happens. Let’s see.

The Times of San Diego quoted City Council member Todd Gloria, saying that the fight for a local increase in the minimum wage on the June ballot would continue:

It would take a few years for wages under the state agreement to reach his proposed amount in San Diego, and the agreement does not call for five paid sick days, Gloria said. The state currently requires that employers provide three sick days that workers can earn over time.

“Workers are in need of these wages now and it is important that we secure a local increase in order to help San Diegans pay for rent, food and other everyday household expenses,” Gloria said.

He said the state announcement was “an affirmation of the leadership San Diego showed” with the original, aborted passage of the minimum wage increase.

The Union-Tribune ran an article affirming a nearly month-old story by the Voice of San Diego indicating that opponents to the local minimum wage hike aren’t sure of what to do.

Battle_over_city_s_minimum_wage_not_over_1922530000_7443119_ver1.0_640_480Another factor in how the two sides are approaching Proposition I is the undecided presidential races in both the Democratic and Republican parties, which have created uncertainty about turnout in the June primary among Democrats, who are more likely to support the wage hike, and Republicans, who are more likely to oppose it.

There is also a risk that an aggressive campaign against the wage increase by business groups could spur higher turnout among Democrats who support the hike, hurting Republican candidates that the business groups support in other races.

“It’s nothing like we’ve ever seen before,” said Aimee Faucett, chief operating officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We’re not sure which direction we’re going to go in yet, but we will oppose it at some level.”


This is an excerpt from Doug Porter’s column at our associated San Diego Free Press.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Colin April 1, 2016 at 1:43 pm

Scalia is definitely in a better place, thank God! And Friedrichs should go to a place with no history of organized labor.


Terrie Leigh Relf April 1, 2016 at 10:12 pm

I was a union member and when I had grievances, they were brushed under the carpet. Long story short, I resigned my post. At those times (and yes, there were several), I opted not to follow through with an attorney as I was a single mother and did not want to embroil myself in filing suit. If this were to occur now, I would have an attorney on speed dial.


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