Organized labor got an understandable scare when the Supreme Court, on June 30, in yet another 5-4 decision, ruled (in Harris vs. Quinn) that home healthcare employees can’t be forced to pay union dues, even if they have benefited from union representation. No surprise that those comprising the majority were Justices Scalia, Alito, Kennedy, Roberts and Thomas. The Gang of Five.
However, what worries organized labor most—what has put them on alert—isn’t the Harris vs. Quinn decision so much as the potential snowball effect it may have on the landmark Abrood vs. Detroit Board of Education decision (1977), a ruling which maintained that “fair share” requirements were constitutional. But that was way back in 1977, when unions were still recognized as vitally important social-economic institutions.
Alas, things have changed. There is now a predatory anti-union movement loose upon the land, one that is going around telling working folks that they deserve a free ride. These anti-union fiends are telling workers who voluntarily hired into union shops (because of the superior wages, benefits and working conditions) that they don’t have to pay their fair share—that they don’t have to pay dues to the very union who fought to get them these superior wages and benefits.
Nutty as that sounds, these anti-union fanatics have not only tried to make this a bogus First Amendment issue, they have, in fact, managed to get some intelligent people to listen to them, including the conservative wing of the Supreme Court. Of course, one can guess what organized labor’s position is on this issue. Their position is defined by a bedrock adherence to a sense of fair play.
All one need do is look at the numbers. With barely 11-percent of all jobs in the U.S. being unionized, a non-union job is incredibly easy to find. You throw a rock and you’ll hit a non-union job. Accordingly, people who, for whatever philosophical reason, are opposed to unions will have more than enough jobs to choose from. In fact, with so few union jobs out there, they will be hard-pressed to find one that is unionized.
But if these philosophically opposed Americans voluntarily choose a union job over a non-union job (because union jobs across the board—industry to industry, shop to shop—offer better wages, benefits and working conditions), it’s only fair they be asked to pay their share of the freight. Let’s be honest here. Not only would those wages and bennies not be available if it weren’t for the union, they were the sole reason why they chose a union job over a non-union job.
Yet, in a world seemingly turned upside down, these people are being told otherwise. They are being told that, despite the benefits their labor union was able to negotiate, the U.S. Constitution dictates that these workers don’t have to pay their fair share. Basically, they’re being told that the U.S. Constitution has a built-in “non-accountability” clause that none of us ever heard of, not until Ronald Reagan was elected president.
Of course, this issue is dripping with irony. The Republicans have a history of opposing social welfare (food stamps, stipends, government subsidies), arguing that such programs only encourage deadbeats. Yet, irony of ironies, here they are urging people to “go on welfare” by burying their snouts in the union trough. Idea for James Cameron’s next movie: “Terminator 4: Rise of the Freeloaders.”
David Macaray is a labor columnist and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor, 2nd Edition). firstname.lastname@example.org