Koch Brothers, ALEC turn to Supreme Court to silence workers


by Félix Pérez/image courtesy of Matt Schilder

The Koch Brothers, ALEC and their secretive network of interconnected boardrooms and front groups have plotted for years to strip teachers, education support professionals, health care employees and other public sector workers of their rights in the workplace. That explains why, at the moment, they have their eyes fixed on the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected as early as next week to issue a ruling that could undermine the rights and protections of all workers.

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The case in dispute is Harris v. Quinn. Originating in Illinois, the lawsuit was brought by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which has two staff attorneys who are identified on the group’s website as “Koch Associates.” The billionaire Koch Brothers in 2012 alone spent $122 million on politics to benefit their business interests at the expense of working families.

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The Koch’s’ main political organization, Americans for Prosperity, has waged a war against increasing the minimum wage. The group has also put its massive budget toward supporting tax cuts for the wealthy, weakening Medicare and workplace safety rules, opposing unemployment insurance and bankrolling the Tea Party.

The central issue driving Harris v. Quinn is the principle of “fair share,” a mechanism by which all workers equitably share the cost of maintaining union-negotiated protections and benefits. The Koch Brothers, ALEC and their allies have long claimed, contrary to established law, that fair share fees are used for political activities.

Labor scholars and analysts say the legal challenges to fair share are aimed at amassing political power.

John Logan, director of San Francisco State University’s labor studies program, in response to a fair share lawsuit in California (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association), told the Huffington Post:

The purpose of the legal challenge is not to protect the rights of individual employees. The real purpose is to diminish the political voice of public-sector unions.

For its part, ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, often pursues a parallel track with the Koch Brothers in seeking to silence the voice of workers. A “bill mill” that pairs corporate lobbyists with politicians to vote behind closed doors on model bills, ALEC, funded in part by Charles and David Koch, has helped the Kochs pass anti-worker and school privatization legislation in state after state. According to the Center for Media and Democracy,  the “Kochs’ mistrust of public education can be traced to their father, Fred, who ranted and raved that the National Education Association was a communist group and public school books were filled with ‘communist propaganda.’ ”

Through model legislation, ALEC helps the Koch Brothers and like-minded corporations limit the rights of teachers, firefighters, police and other public workers through “right to work” legislation and the elimination of fair share.

Harris v. Quinn involves a challenge to an Illinois statute that allows a union selected by home-care workers to collect a fair share fee from all the workers in the union.

Reader Comments

  1. The Supreme Court should not waste time hearing cases. They only need to determine if their vote helps the right or left. If it is the right, then it will be 5 to 4 in favor and if it helps the left, then it will be 5 to 4 against. See I just saved the tax payers a ton of wasted money. If we program robots to do this job we can save billions over time and use that money to create more jobs in China. Maybe if we send them enough money they may allow religious freedom and we can export religious leaders to teach them what religious freedom is after someone teaches them a religion. Wow, something to finally export to China other than our trash to be recycled. Now that us a win-win for the American lower class. By this time there would be no middle class sort of like the books in “The Time Machine”.

  2. Why is the USA broke(n)? For the answer you’d have to go all the way back to the (roaring) 1920’s.
    The Great Depression was arguably caused by wealth consolidation at the top, while declining income for the workforce resulted in reduced demand for production and the ensuing snowball effect of unemployment, further demand reduction, and the domino effect of curtailed capital investments, the withdrawal of capital when stock prices fell, and finally the bank runs, and the crash of ’29.
    Coming out of the Great Depression, with its lessons fresh on the minds of our nation and its elected officials, policies were enacted to bolster the middle class. To kick start a recovery, Roosevelt enacted New Deal work programs for the displaced workers like the CCC, CWA, and PWA. Then policies like The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, The Wagner Act, otherwise known as The National Labor Relations Act, and later, the Employment Act of 1946, were measures enacted to fortify the middle class. The Glass-Steagall Act separated the investment banks from commercial banks, and marginal tax rates were set at 90%. These measures, it was agreed, were necessary to fortify the middle class (create and sustain a dynamic consumer market), stabilize the financial sector, and practically assure the investment of capital back into the USA.
    These measures were met with bitter opposition and cries of protest from the business sector and their friends and profit protectors in Congress who claimed they were “unconstitutional,” an “infringement on freedoms,” “socialism,” etc. … Sound familiar?
    But look at the results! For the remainder of most of the 20th century, the USA cultivated the world’s premier, most prosperous consumer economy. The cumulative effect of employing millions of high wage workers resulted not only in the clearing of retail shelves (demand), and the uptick in production, but in the filling of local, state, and federal treasuries. To get a tax break, our wealthy INVESTED their vast wealth in the USA.
    Together, we were able to achieve the largest expansion in US history, create a “social safety net” (Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and unemployment compensation), develop the world’s most powerful military, rebuild post WWII Europe and Japan (The Marshall Plan), win the Race to the Moon, AND win the Cold War against the competing Communist system.
    During those years of unparalleled Historic USA expansion and investment, we even had a few years when there were budget surpluses (1951, 56, and 57). We also had steady trade surpluses up until around 1975; by then the offshoring of manufacturing jobs (shoe, garment, textile, toys, and electronics) to 3rd world countries to by-pass the high wage US worker began to take its toll. Then, by the end of the millennium, GATT and NAFTA, but in 2001, when China (Avg. wage- $1.36/hr., some work for 30 cents/hr) joined the WTO (with MFN status), even our jobs in Mexico left for China, and it’s been a steep downhill plunge ever since. (Incidentally, our burgeoning trade deficits exceeded over Half a Trillion $$$/yr. by 2004 and have not diminished!)
    In my view, our middle class got fat and happy and left the fight for their slice of the American Pie to “someone else,” but in the business sector, their eye never wanders from the bottom line. They continued to probe the fences for weaknesses so they could reclaim their “losses” to US labor.
    FTAs Incentivized the jobs exodus to offshore sweatshops and introduced the “global economy” where “multinationals” and “transnationals” continue to monopolize world commerce. The Gramm, Leach, Bliley Act, initiated the deregulation fever that created the lucrative bonus systems on Wall Street and witnessed the “smartest men in the room” behaving badly, then Citizens United, Super PACs, in our “pay-to-play” legislature we have today. Marginal taxes on our top earners were continuously reduced since the 50s and 60s until today where marginal rates are around 35% (they were dropped to 28% throughout the 80s) and capital gains (where most of the earnings of the wealthy reside, have been reduced to somewhere around 15% about half the rate the middle class pays… All of these bills advanced the interests of BIG $$$, and the by-pass of the spoiled, fat and complacent US middle class (aka: we the people). And now, after 30 years of favor for our “job creators” (how disingenuous), and the decimation of the middle class, the USA has her tit in a ringer!
    Ironically, no sooner had the USA won the Cold War, proving to the world that capitalism, combined with a prosperous middle class was a system that really worked, than capitalists went about proving Karl Marx right about how unchecked capitalism works.
    And now, in just 30 years of legislative favor, we’re back to pre-Great Depression conditions where corporatists have managed to garner all of the gains to themselves that they were once required to share. Our Utopian (sophisticated and expensive) society is going broke, and guesses who is making record gains again?
    We’ve forgotten the lessons of the past.

  3. Under the law, all workers benefit from any protections established by union activity therefore “fair share” attempts to establish an equitable sharing of the financial burdens incurred. As is often qouted, “Freedom is not free”.
    The concept of “All for one and one for all” is the foundation of union influence in the collective bargaining process. Few individual workers have the resources of time and money to fight wealthy, fully staffed, and well organized employers when abuse of power occurs. Hence, the pooling of resources helps level the bargaining field and ultimately provides protection for all workers and the American way of life.

  4. ALEC and other corporate profit protectors would have all but our MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE types in every executive suite on Wall Street and corporate headquarters in America the Beautiful, once the land of opportunity for all, cave to the downward pressure on wages here to conform to the wages encountered in offshore nations like China (avg. wage= $1.36/hr.), or Vietnam (.75 cents/ hr.), etc. to compete for job from the “Job Creators” (how disingenuous)!
    When pressed, they will concede that Unions, combined with national policy coming out of the Great Depression, were responsible for the rise of the USA middle class consumer economy, the mightiest economy the modern world has ever seen, but will always point out the excesses, as they go about proving the need for their continued existence as advocate for the middle class they’ve decimated through 30 years of Conservative national policy, and unchecked influence in our legislature.

  5. Unions have done some things wrong but only in their growing an trying to help the worker have the right to work in a healthy environment and for reasonable hours. Pay issues, insurance, holidays and other benefits which now are taken for granted were major changes in how a work force was treated less than a hundred years ago. Ask your grandparents! If you want your grandchildren to earn half of what you do and fight to have a job at all, go ahead and support ALEC which only wants to exchange Koch money for POWER!

  6. It’s funny that the 1% doesn’t realize that the very policies they oppose and spend billions on persuading dumb Americans to be against are the very same policies that create demand and would ultimately greatly benefit them.

  7. Avoid purchasing the below Koch paper products and please re-post this reminder anytime you get the chance:

    Brawny, Sparkle, Angel Soft, Quilted Northern, Vanity Fair, Dixie, and Mardi Gras

  8. Martin,
    You Sir, are an embarrassment. You are/were an NEA member? That means you were in the educational field. Your working conditions, salary, class size, work day, health benefits, retirement options, OSHA, FMLA, omg! … the list is nearly endless… were all created and protected by labor unions. As a 25 year veteran teacher and local Union leader, I am appalled that you are taking such a stand. This country was built on the backs of the middle class and their backs were protected by labor unions. Protected from the abuses that those in power, those with money, would have imposed. If we allow the Koch brothers, the Gates Foundation, Rupert Murdoch, ALEC, and other “reformists” to reign supreme and unchecked, this country will suffer irreparable damage. The USA is not the world leader it had been only 2 decades ago. The only means to success in this and any country is to build and support a strong middle class.

  9. ALEC’s efforts appear to be aimed at protecting, and furthering, the increasing gap in our nation between the haves and the have-nots. Concurrently, these efforts are diminishing the middle class, the growth and strength of which can be linked directly to the growth of unions and the labor movement. In its efforts to try to maintain the “American Dream” for the few who have attained it, and those that have been lucky enough to be born into it,by denying access to a good, or even a decent life to the “masses,” I fear that ALEC’s efforts are leading our nation down a perilous path that will culminate in a desperate and disastrous uprising by the exploited underclass.

  10. The French economist Piketty has concluded the the USA is on the cusp of becoming the most unequal society in human history. Great concentrations of wealth are inimical to a democracy. Post WWII tax rates on the highest incomes were confiscatory; Reagan and GW changed all that. In order to preserve our democracy, we must demand that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of taxes to the benefit of the most disadvantaged Americans.

  11. I will not support anything proposed by ALEC. I should have the freedom to join a Union and vote for my bargaining rights just the same as I have the right to vote as a citizen of the United States of America. As a citizen I have the right to vote for representation. As a worker I should have that right as well. It’s the American way. ALEC and the Koch brothers are just plain wrong. The have their lawyers, we should have ours.

  12. This constant attack on two Americans, the Koch brothers, is just WRONG! So what if you disagree with them on many levels, but to constantly pick on these two private citizens is akin to fascism – but that’s what the left really is all about: control. It makes me sick. I’ve been a long time NEA dues payer, but this is just wrong, un-American, evil. To hell with the NEA and it’s members. I hope to live to see the day when labor unions are destroyed totally – they aren’t productive anymore. They just use class envy, character assassination, tyranny, and fascism to get their greedy way. Dennis Van Roekel – I am ashamed you are from Arizona.

    1. Martin you are more than a little confused on the meaning of Fascism and it kind of nullifies everything you say. Why don’t you study the differences in the Ideologies in full use today.

    2. You have forgotten what unions have done for Americans. Read your history book. Do you really think your kind-hearted employer would have willingly given you 40 hour work weeks? Weekends to spend with your family? Sick days to heal? Safe workplaces? Get real…wake up.

    3. I have a hard time believing you have been an NEA member and benefiting from all they do for students and teachers that you have this attitude. NEA members do often back Democrats because they support education and for no other reason. But the good they have done for education cannot be measured.

    4. Martin, you are thinking like the good little conservative sheep the Koch brothers love to see. So far, I have seen no personal attacks against them, just against their politics. Might ask if you have ever held a job as a common laborer, or even a skilled worker? If you have, many of the job protections you enjoyed were there because of unions. Do you like your forty hour work week? How about those paid holidays? Thank the unions for both of those things, and a lot more.

    5. Martin: I ask you to picture a society in which only those as wealthy as the Koch Brothers have the means for any education whatsoever. If the likes of the Koch Brothers are not stopped, that will be America’s future. If the unions go, the remaining public schools will go, and only private charters will remain. The world will be controlled by wealth and greed. Those that come from families that could not afford education from a costly private charter won’t even know what it means to have rights. That is why I feel the need to speak out against the Koch Brothers.

    6. You must be kidding. The demise of unions has brought about the demise of the middle class, all to benefit the top 1%. As the Koch brothers are totally concerned with protecting their own interests while they continue to pollute the environment, I’m totally against them and ALEC, which has similar goals.

    7. Martin, I would surely hate to have you teach my kids with your superior, authoritarian and FASCIST attitude. Go back to Shitzona.

    8. Martin, I am ashamed you are a human being. The Koch brothers are fascist pigs who are using their vast wealth (Blood money) to change our gouvernment to a fascist dictatorship like Arizona.

    9. Martin- you are clueless. The right is all about control- why do these guys continue to throw money at politicians? The Koch brothers are not regular citizens- If they were, I may agree with you but they are not. They are using their wealth to influence our country in a way that is unconstitutional (at least it should be) and goes against the principles of republicanism that this country was built on. Equal voice, equal vote- that’s Jefferson if you didn’t know. And I didn’t even get to the self-serving anti-worker legislation that they support. That is control- and the right has written the book on it- all the way back to Rockefeller and Morgan. Take a look around dude- morons like you are why these guys have so much power. You buy their crap. If I were from Arizona, I’d be ashamed of you.

    10. Martin, it is the job of reporters to uncover facts and report them. There are clear facts about the Koch brothers which I, for one, am happy to be aware of. If the buying up of political seats does not horrify you, then you have a much bigger problem than the NEA. The mere existence of ALEC scares the heck out of me because the people I vote for to represent ME might be in the pocket of big business via ALEC. Connect the dots. The Koch brothers are intertwined with ALEC and anti-global warming propaganda. My high school seniors were bright enough to ask and answer the question about why they would be against global warming: the Koch brothers made their fortune off fossil fuel. Reporting the news is not fascism. If you don’t want true reporting, Try North Korea where the news is controlled by the gov’t.

    11. When 2 individual s with billions of cash use their resources to strip the rights, dignity, and future of workers, unions are the only defense the little guy has. If you think unions are so bad. Check out the working conditions in China, India or Bangladesh Are you ready to work there? If not , support unions here or you & your children will be working like them.

    12. Amazing that when the right to representation comes from the masses it is considered coming from the left. All the right wants to do is eliminate the backbone of America, they want it to be controlled by spineless selfish greedy individuals. They hide behind the constitution and cry nd whine when challenged. This land of opportunity is only open to those who already are the “haves”. It is a sad commentary on what has gone wrong in America.

    13. Martin, I believe you may soon get your wish. Union membership has fallen to around 7%. There is a definite correlation between the decimation of the middle class and the record gains being realized by corporations, the financial sector, and the top1% (actually the top .01% are the real perpetrators of the current reverse Robin Hood practices we are witnessing for over 30 years now), through a combination of Free Trade Agreements (GATT, NAFTA, WTO, and the secretive, upcoming TPP), tax policy that favors Capital Gains, Tax Deferred Annuities and Stock Options, Carried Interest, etc, Union Busting policy and rhetoric, concealed brilliantly behind socially conservative posturing including a but not limited to morality, religion, and other commendable social positions.

      If you are accusing me and many of those who’ve replied to your rant of being envious of those who’ve perpetrated this class warfare against the middle class and the demonizing of the working poor, you are mistaken. We’re not envious, WE’RE FURIOUS!!!

    14. I agree in some way, but not to your reference to Arizona. Unions were the founding force that created our middle class – yes! Now however, unions in many more forms other than the teachers’ union, often abuse their “giant force” power. I do think as a nation, we need unions; but need to regulate their power, their size, the structuring of the administration as well as how “money and union dues are spent.”

  13. If a majority of employees in a work place decide that all should participate in the effort to establish fair wages and good working conditions, why should a minority of such a work force be permitted to avoid collective participation in funding for such efforts. The right wing groups contending that these agency fees are used for political action should look within their own ranks for misuse of funds collected under the guise of not for profit status and used to attack public employees, their defined benefit pensions, collective bargaining, etc. etc….all for a profiteering benefit to ALEC corporate members, the Koch Brothers, and their minions.

  14. Any law that limits the ability of certain classes of Americans to exercise their rights in the workplace limits the ability of ALL Americans to our right to have opinions that don’t agree with those in power. What’s next? Abolishing the First Amendment? That seems to be where the Kochs and ALEC are heading.

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