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Organized Labor Gets a Lucky Break

After a steady diet of bad news in recent years, including Michigan and Wisconsin mindlessly voting to become “right to work” states (which, in the 1970s, would have been not only stunning but incomprehensible), organized labor caught a break when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly, in February.

Not to dance on anyone’s grave, but Scalia’s death couldn’t have come at a better time for America’s public sector unions. Had he been able to vote in the matter of “Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association,” he would almost certainly have joined a 5-4 majority overturning the 1977 “Abood” decision (Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education).

The landmark “Abood” ruling required union apostates to pay their “fair share” of the collective bargaining costs that go toward getting them the decent contracts they enjoy. What Abood did, basically, was to outlaw greedy freeloaders from pretending to be ideological purists.

But with Scalia’s sudden death, and the Supreme Court reduced to eight justices, the vote on whether to overturn the appellate court’s decision on “Friedrichs” resulted in a 4-4 tie. Although it wasn’t noted, the four who voted to overrule Friedrichs were presumably Justices Alito, Thomas, Kennedy, and Roberts. But when there’s a tie, the decision reverts to that of the lower court.

Thus, the appellate court’s ruling, happily, remained in place. In short, with Scalia vanishing from the bench, Rebecca Friedrichs lost her bullshit lawsuit, Abood survived for another day, and workplace justice prevailed. All things considered, not too shabby.

In truth, it takes a lot nerve for workers who are drawing a union wage and enjoying union benefits and working conditions (not to mention having access to union “protection” and the formal grievance procedure) to pretend that they shouldn’t have to belong to the very union that serves as their benefactor.

But it takes infinitely more nerve to say, with a straight face, that in addition to not having to belong to the union that provides them with all these goodies, they shouldn’t have to pay any part of the expenses incurred in the collective bargaining process. That takes real chutzpah.

Of course, they can’t admit to something as selfish as this—not without looking like a total freeloader—so they take refuge behind an ideological barrier and pretend that because organized labor donates heavily to the Democratic Party, their decision not to part with their money (which in “Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association” was about $650 per year) is a “political” gesture. A matter of principle. An act of conscience.

Of course, the bitter irony here is that, while it’s true that organized labor has supported the Democratic Party ever since the National Labor Relations Act (the “Wagner Act”) was ratified, in 1935, as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Democrats have done precious little for America’s unions.

It’s true. Not only do the Democrats take union support for granted, they defiantly rub labor’s nose in it. The way the Democrats see it, America’s union members have only two choices: Either vote Democrat or vote Republican. And because unions know the Republicans will treat them ever-so-slightly worse than the mealy-mouthed Democrats treat them, it’s a dilemma.

Which brings us back to the concept of freeloading. If a person truly has philosophical problems with belonging to a workers’ collective, that’s fine. If you are that strongly opposed to the concept of “unions,” no one is forcing you to work in a union shop, despite the superior wages and benefits. But you can’t have it both ways, pal. That’s sheer hypocrisy.

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David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

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