The necessity of public unions, now no chance for compromise

NOTE: Shortly before publishing, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he’ll retire effective July 31.

scotus trump usa flag

According to Axios, that’ll give President Donald Trump

“a chance to pull the court significantly to the right for decades to come. This is seismic — for politics as a whole, for the court and, ultimately, for the millions of Americans whose lives are shaped by its rulings. Replacing Kennedy with a more conservative justice would likely lead to new limits on abortion and LGBT rights, and could easily be the most consequential act of Trump’s presidency. … The confirmation battle will be intense. Republicans have just a one-seat majority in the Senate, and Democrats will be under enormous pressure from their base to try as hard as they can to block Trump’s nominee. Both sides are already prepared for a brutal fight.”

Kennedy was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, but has long been the court’s swing vote. Winning him over was often the only way to build a majority.

Anthony Kennedy
Front row, left to right: Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Back row: Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. Credit: Franz Jantzen, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

I was always a union member while teaching in Miami. Florida is a “right to work” state (that phrase makes no sense) and I didn’t have to join UTD, the United Teachers of Dade – but I did anyway for the benefits, protection, and because it was the right thing to do since they negotiated my pay in accordance with crushing state laws.

For example, in March, the Florida legislature passed new collective bargaining rules into law. It doesn’t target all public unions; just the teachers who spend more time with the Sunshine State’s children for most of the year than their parents. And the schools that feed many of those kids breakfast and lunch at free or reduced prices, while their parents let them starve or eat garbage all summer. According to the Tampa Bay Times, it requires

“local unions to prove they represent a majority of the teachers in their districts. The measuring stick: Having at least half of all employees eligible to be in the union paying dues.

“If they fall short, they could lose their authority to negotiate working conditions and pay with the school boards. And many might find themselves in that spot: Some larger districts including Miami-Dade and Pasco hover just below the level, as do some smaller ones including Calhoun.

“The big question is, what would happen next? Are unions that miss the mark dissolved, and their contracts along with them? … The answer remains unclear.”

So much for attention to detail and consequences, two things members of the Florida legislature could be taught! And most teachers are women, who these lawmakers are more likely to take advantage of. But I have to say, it also did the right thing on guns, the same month, and the NRA is suing. Details on that below.

But not being a union member would’ve made me a freeloader, and I write that with love and respect for many or my co-workers who chose that route. Some teachers complained about the money, and they may have had bigger families to support and student loans to pay back, but they would’ve made less if it wasn’t for the union. Now, that’s in dire jeopardy.

Earlier, as a member of AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (before its merger with SAG, the Screen Actors Guild) in Philadelphia TV, I knew what I was getting into, just as the public union employees did.

I believe AFTRA did the right thing and had the perfect solution by letting some members pay less, so their dues did not go into any political fund and did not influence elections in any way.

I was hoping a compromise like that could withstand today’s Supreme Court ruling that public unions cannot collect fees from non-members, but no.

Axios reports,

“The court struck down so-called ‘agency fees’ that unions collect from non-members. Those fees can only be used for collective bargaining, not overtly political activity.”

But the Court, by a 5-4 vote, sided with critics who

“say that because these unions are bargaining with the government, their bargaining is inherently political.”

Now, Axios predicts

“without agency fees, unions won’t be able to afford the lawyers and other staff who drive their negotiations, making membership ultimately seem like a worse deal.”

I’ll add, this seems lopsided, and a fair deal for workers – not too much but also not too little – ultimately helps everyone. Fewer union members mean less money for Americans and more people on welfare. Is that what we want?

Besides, to the justices of the Supreme Court, aren’t most things inherently political?

We all pay taxes for schools, even if we don’t have children attending. We pay for police and fire departments, even though we hope we never need them. (I wonder what percentage of the population actually uses their services annually.)

It’s not a good day to be one of your town’s finest or bravest. Its leaders are naturally going to try to take your pay and benefits!

There’s also paying for parks we don’t go to, and roads we never drive on.

But nobody can opt out of those taxes because they are needed for society and the future.

The critics claim membership in a union violates their First Amendment rights but money is not speech, unless you agree with the Citizens United case. (Wikipedia says back in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled “the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for communications by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations.” That gave nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations Constitutional protections that had gone only to actual, real people for more than 200 years, since the time of this country’s founders. Is it right they gave the rich more say and to do it secretly?)

us constitution
Article I of the Constitution, not to be confused with the First Amendment

Plus, the critics claim public unions aren’t fair because the workers vote, urge others to vote and then negotiate with the people elected. But don’t ordinary citizens have those same rights, the ability to assemble organizations and make requests of leaders on all levels?

A year ago, Forbes reported, “Across most developed nations, labor union membership is getting rarer.” It didn’t mean just the U.S.

Wikipedia reports the four countries that gained union worker percentages from 1970 to 2003 were Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Belgium. Those aren’t countries you see on any “bad places” lists.

Finland Sweden Denmark Belgium

Here, our nation’s government was built on a system of checks and balances. No government nor private employer wants to pay their workers more, and the people don’t want to pay any more taxes.

Already, too many states and municipalities are in the red over pension obligations that added up over the years. It’s not fair politicians from the past gave away too much in order to keep their own jobs on Election Day. Blame them, not the workers. (Compare it to how we’ll leave climate and the environment to our children and grandchildren).

Wikipedia goes on to say, in the U.S.,

“Public approval of unions … declined to below 50 percent for the first time in 2009 during the Great Recession. It is not clear if this is a long term trend or a function of a high unemployment rate, which historically correlates with lower public approval of labor unions.

“One explanation for loss of public support is simply the lack of union power or critical mass. No longer do a sizable percentage of American workers belong to unions, or have family members who do. Unions no longer carry the ‘threat effect’: the power of unions to raise wages of non-union shops by virtue of the threat of unions to organize those shops.”

But we know good teachers need raises (along with support from administrators, etc.) or they’ll leave the profession, while athletes arguably make too much money. (And yes, educators know what they’re getting into.)

what teachers do Facebook
Facebook

So what do the citizens of this country plan to do to make things fair and right, in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling?

The Tampa Bay Times quoted the president of the Association of Calhoun Educators in northern Florida, which was formed just two years ago. Until then, there was no collective bargaining unit to support teachers.

“We had no contract. … They would say, yes, there is money for a raise or, no, there isn’t. Whatever they decided, went.”

That doesn’t sound like a place where people who value themselves or their profession would want to work, unless they have no other choice. Perhaps that’s what the good folks of Calhoun County wanted. That’s too bad because I can’t imagine a bright future there, with jobs and rising property values.

Union Yes Wikimedia Commons

Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, wrote:

“With its decision in Janus v. AFSCME, the U.S. Supreme Court today turned its back on American workers—the educators, nurses, firefighters, police officers, and public servants who make our communities strong and safe.

“The Court’s ruling is a massive gift to the special interests and billionaires who already benefit from a system that is rigged in their favor and against the rights and freedoms of working people. They brought this case to silence our voice and make it more difficult to join together to advocate for our students and communities.

“But make no mistake: we will not be silent. We are organized and determined to stand together and fight for the resources our students need to succeed.

Take the #RedForEd pledge and stand with NEA as we continue to build a strong union that advocates for the opportunity students need to succeed.

“As we saw earlier this year in state after state that went #RedForEd, educators—joined by parents and community members—are a force to be reckoned with. We will do what it takes to roll back years of funding cuts and to make sure our students have up-to-date textbooks, desks and chairs that aren’t broken, the latest technology, and adequate school buildings.

“Now, we must continue to build this movement by coming together to advocate for students like never before.

So whether you are an educator, parent, or community member, please show your support for strong public schools by taking the #RedForEd pledge today.

“Thank you for your continued involvement with the National Education Association. Your support of great public schools for every child matters more and more every day.”

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten wrote:

“The Supreme Court may have ruled against us today, but don’t count us out.

“The right-wing extremists on the Supreme Court showed their true colors today. Their thirst for rigging the economy toward the powerful trumped the aspirations and needs of communities and the people who serve them. But, despite this decision, workers are sticking with the union because unions are still the best vehicle working people have to get ahead.

“Our union comprises some of the hardest-working and most compassionate people in the country. Every day, we care for patients, educate and support America’s children, ensure high-quality public services, and provide a world-class system of higher education. Together, through our union, we fight not just for ourselves but for the people we serve. When the Supreme Court overturns 40 years of precedent in an effort to weaken our ability to bargain for what we need, then we have to recommit ourselves to standing together in solidarity.

“Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, the Koch brothers and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner are celebrating right now. The best way to take the wind out of their sails is to show the world that, despite their attacks, we’re sticking together. Let them know you’re sticking with the union.

“Let’s be clear, the Janus case was about defunding unions. It was about who will have power in our country—working people or big corporate interests. That’s why the case was being funded by wealthy donors and corporate interests. First, they pledged $80 million to ‘defund and defang’ unions. Then, the Kochs, after receiving the Trump tax cut, upped the ante with $400 million to undermine public education and ‘break’ the teachers unions. Why? Because unions fight for a better life for people, and corporate interests see that as a threat to their power.

“Strong unions create strong communities. We will continue fighting, caring, showing up and voting to make possible what is impossible for individuals acting alone. And we will continue to make the case—in the halls of statehouses and the court of public opinion, at our workplaces and communities, and at the ballot box in November—through organizing, activism, and members recommitting to their union.

“When we fight for resources for schools, we’re fighting for students. When we fight for safe staffing standards for nurses, we’re fighting for patients. When we have the resources to do our jobs, all of society benefits. We may be a threat to the power of wealthy corporate interests, but by sticking together, we are stronger than their attacks.

“Throughout the day, union members have been sharing selfies and videos on social media. Let’s show the world that we’re proud to be union members. You can start right now: Tell them you’re sticking with the union. Show the people attacking unions that you value your freedom to have a better life and your freedom to have a union.”

SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris, who you knew as Andrea Zuckerman on Beverly Hills 90210 but now serves as a vice president on the AFL-CIO’s executive council, said:

“The Court made the wrong decision; a decision in favor of increasing the power of employers at the expense of their workers. Without engaged workers, union protections become more vulnerable. This ruling is a direct attempt to weaken unions, the very organizations who allow workers to speak together as one, to have a voice in their wages, their safety at work, and their healthcare and retirement. The Supreme Court’s decision directly overturns a decision made by the Court in 1977. Have workers lives improved so much that unions can now be so blatantly attacked? Are workers all better off now? Are employers sharing in their success with all those who make them successful? No.

“This shameful decision only serves to strengthen our resolve to find ways to protect working families in this country. Now more than ever as professionals, we must come together and renew our commitment to speak as one. To be strong in the face of all attempts to minimize us. We know that fighting for a better life for you and your family is what unions do. It’s time for unions, and the workers who make them vibrant and strong, to show this court and those who would attack and diminish working people that this is unacceptable. When workers come together, workers win, and that did not change today.”

beverly hills 90210 wikipedia
Beverly Hills 90210 characters: Center: Dylan McKay; Clockwise from far left: Kelly Taylor, Steve Sanders, Andrea Zuckerman, Brandon Walsh, Brenda Walsh, Donna Martin, David Silver (Wikipedia)

WATCH: Florida Evans arguing with her husband over working as a black maid on Maude.

MORE MAUDE: Carol is passed over for a promotion due to gender discrimination.

AND THE MOTHER of all Maude labor episodes: Walter angry after workers at Findlay’s Friendly Appliances decided to unionize. This one starts with the classic opening theme!

It should be noted, also in March, the Florida legislature enacted “significant gun control measures in the state for the first time since the GOP took control … more than two decades ago,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

The historic moment happened weeks after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17 people – 14 students and three staff members.

Furthermore, Gov. Rick Scott – described by the paper as a “staunch Republican and longtime National Rifle Association member” – did not use his line-item veto authority to remove money from the sweeping $400-million school safety bill “for what many consider the most contentious part of the legislation – a program that allows school employees to bring firearms on campus.”

“The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, imposes a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases and bans the sale or possession of ‘bump stocks,’ which allow semiautomatic rifles to mimic machine guns.

“The NRA almost immediately filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of banning people under the age of 21 from buying firearms.

“Under Florida law, Scott could have used his line-item veto authority to reject the funding for a $67 million ‘guardian’ program that would allow some teachers to volunteer to carry guns after undergoing 132 hours of firearms and 12 hours of diversity training.”

rick scott bill nelson
Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) vs. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL)

It should also be noted Gov. Scott is expected to be running against longtime U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

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