The Supreme Court will hear arguments Monday in a case with big implications for Minnesota firefighters, teachers and other public-sector workers who benefit from the collective bargaining process.
At a press conference inside the Firefighters Hall and Museum in Minneapolis today, public workers warned that the case, Friedrichs v. CTA, is an attempt by corporate interests to weaken not only their unions, but also the services they provide.
“I’m worried that this lawsuit could weaken my ability to advocate for my students,” St. Paul special-ed teacher Shannon Jax said. “It will make it harder for educators to fight for what children need.”
Bankrolled by the right-wing Center for Individual Rights, the Friedrichs case challenges unions’ ability to collect fees from public-sector workers who choose not to join a union but, as members of the bargaining unit, enjoy equal access to benefits provided by the contract.
“Fair-share fees,” ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court 37 years ago, ensure no worker contributes to a union’s political activities without first giving consent, but require all workers share equally the cost of negotiation and representation.
The system works well, St. Paul firefighter Chris Parsons said, in Minnesota and other states that have not already prohibited unions from collecting fair-share fees.
“In the fire service we believe in fraternity, loyalty, honesty and integrity,” Capt. Parsons said. “We believe in family and in being our brother’s keeper. We also believe that each man and woman has the obligation to pull their own weight.”
Prohibiting public employees from forming strong unions, Parsons said, makes it harder for firefighters to bargain for the equipment they need to work safely or for staffing levels that keep the community safe.
Jax said her union, Education Minnesota, has empowered teachers in the St. Paul Public Schools to fight back against cuts to art and music programs, and to hold the state accountable for meeting special-education funding requirements.
“Our children are coming to school with more and more needs than ever before, and I want to make sure I do everything I can to help them succeed,” Jax said. “Being a union member gives me a voice in my profession. I can advocate for my students, make a difference and help them get the resources they need.”
Other workers at the press conference said strong public-sector unions help set high standards when it comes to pay equity, earned sick time and other “benefits that everyone needs to raise a family,” retired AFSCME member and former Itasca State Park worker Connie Andrews said.
That corporate interests are looking to roll back those gains comes as no surprise to Anna Angeles-Farris, a custodian in the Lakeville schools and member of SEIU Local 284.
“Unions have made workforces more equitable for all working people. This court case is a clear attack on families who provide essential services for our communities,” Angeles-Farris said. “Our schools, our hospitals and our communities deserve better.”