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Home » Officer Columns » Secretary-Treasurer » What Does the Friedrichs Case Really Mean for Working Americans?

What Does the Friedrichs Case Really Mean for Working Americans?

  -  former AFM International Secretary-Treasurer

As we welcome the new year, I wanted to make you aware of one case on the US Supreme Court docket that could impact workers across the US in 2016.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA) goes to the heart of public sector workers’ ability to unionize and lobby for standards that protect every American. The case focuses on a lawsuit that seeks to destroy public-sector unions by attacking their funding model. Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other nonunion teachers in California are challenging the law that requires them to pay their fair share, via agency fees, of the cost of services that the union is required by law to provide to all workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

Behind the scenes, the Center for Individual Rights, a law firm that has received millions of dollars in funding from conservative foundations, is bankrolling the case. Right-wing operatives, intent on destroying unions and the rights they have won for teachers and other workers, are using this litigation to drive a national policy change to benefit corporate CEOs and wealthy special interests.

The Friedrichs plaintiffs would make unionization harder for everyone by allowing some employees to shirk their fair share of the fees that support negotiations. If they get their way, they will receive the benefits of a union negotiating on their behalf without helping to cover the costs of that work.

The truth is that public service worker unions benefit everyone in the workplace. It is only through the power of negotiating together that we are able to make sure working people earn wages and benefits that support their families, and are able to make improvements to more effectively do their jobs. Through strength in numbers—coming together and speaking with one voice—we all benefit.

The benefits of unions speaking together, especially in the public sector, extend far beyond the workplace. A Supreme Court ruling that goes against the unions could affect public safety standards across the US. First responders—police, firefighters, EMS, and others—won’t be able to negotiate for life-saving equipment and shorter response times. Nurses won’t be able to push for better nurse-to-patient ratios, and likewise, social workers won’t be able to lobby for smaller caseloads. And at the heart of this case, teachers will lose the ability to negotiate for smaller class sizes and improved educational standards. The case could eliminate protections for whistle-blowers who work in food safety or speak out against toxic chemicals polluting our air and water.

I’m personally hoping that when the Supreme Court justices hear this case they keep in mind the protections that have been built through years of organizing, as well as the heroism of our public sector workers.

The loss of millions of dollars in per capita to member unions and the AFL-CIO will affect our union as well. Thinking out of the box as I do from time to time, I can see, if the worst happens, conservatives will try to privatize schools, municipal and state workers, police, fire, hospital services, as well as our symphonies that are state supported. If all were privatized, it would seem that it would present perfect organizing targets. Just saying.

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