The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday rejected an attempt by corporate interests to weaken public-sector workers’ unions and, in the process, undermine the public services they provide.
The court’s decision in Friedrichs v. CTA is a victory for “teachers, nurses, firefighters and public-service workers nationwide,” said Eliot Seide, director of AFSCME Council 5, which represents 43,000 public-service workers in Minnesota.
The one-sentence ruling, issued by an equally divided court, upholds a 38-year-old precedent deeming fair-share fees constitutional in the public sector. Unions collect fair-share fees from workers they represent, but who choose not to become members.
The fair-share system ensures no worker is forced to contribute to a union’s political activities, but requires workers who enjoy equal access to the benefits and protections of a union contract share equally in the costs of negotiation and representation.
Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said “the Constitution, the law and the facts” of the case were on union members’ side.
“We are elated the Supreme Court upheld nearly 40 years of legal precedent and realized the Friedrichs case was really about politics and weakening the voice of working people,” Specht said. “Wealthy special interests want to make it harder for public workers to come together and speak up for better schools, better patient care and safer neighborhoods.”
Those interests almost succeeded. During oral arguments in January, the court’s conservative majority appeared poised to strike down the fair-share precedent and deal a major blow to public-sector unions.
The landscaped shifted with the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February – a reminder, Specht said, of what’s at stake for working people in this election year.
“This split decision highlights the importance of the upcoming presidential election,” she said. “We need to elect someone who will stand up for working families when it comes time to nominate the next U.S. Supreme Court justice.”
Indeed, the Friedrichs case wasn’t the only hope for corporate-backed special interests looking to roll back workers’ rights and weaken public services.
“Wealthy extremists will continue trying to use the Supreme Court to advance their right-wing political agenda,” Seide said. “The best way to stop them from taking away our rights is to elect a pro-worker president whose nominees will shape the high court for decades.”