by Félix Pérez/image courtesy of Matt Schilder
The U.S. Supreme Court, in its ruling today on an Illinois home health care worker case, sided with the Koch Brothers and other radical front groups, undermining the rights and protections of public service workers and creating instability for working families that are just beginning to dig themselves out of the Great Recession.
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The court, in its narrow 5-4 Harris v. Quinn decision written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, supported the argument by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRWLDF) that compelling eight home health care workers to pay their share of the cost of maintaining union-negotiated protections and benefits was a violation of their right to free speech. The Koch Brothers, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and their allies have long claimed “fair share” fees are used for political activities.
NRWLDF has two staff attorneys identified on the group’s website as “Koch Associates.” The billionaire Koch Brothers plan to spend nearly $300 million on elections this year through its political arm, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), to promote their anti-worker agenda, which includes eliminating the fair share legal precedent established by the Supreme Court more than 35 years ago. AFP has for several years waged a national campaign against increasing the minimum wage and has 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.
“Quality public services, economic stability and prosperity starts with strong unions, but today the Supreme Court of the United States created a roadblock on that path to the American Dream,” said Arizona high school teacher and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel in a statement.
Through model legislation, ALEC helps the Koch Brothers and like-minded corporate elites limit the rights of teachers, firefighters, police and other public workers through “right to work” legislation and the elimination of fair share, the mechanism by which all workers share the cost of union-derived wages, benefits and retirement security.
ALEC, funded in part by the Kochs, often pursues a parallel track with Charles and David Koch in seeking to silence the voice of workers. A “bill mill” that pairs corporate lobbyists with politicians who vote behind closed doors on model bills, ALEC has helped the Kochs pass anti-worker and school privatization legislation in state after state.
Said Van Roekel:
Americans count on quality public services provided by public employees like educators. We need workplaces, including public schools, where front-line employees have a voice. Today’s decision shuts the door on one proven method for ensuring that public sector workers’ voices are heard. At a time when we are just starting to dig out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we should be creating an economy that works for all of us—not taking radical steps that undermine the rights of public workers while creating uncertainty and instability in the workplace.
The court did not entirely side with the anti-worker NRWLDF; the plaintiffs sought to abolish unions effectively by arguing that it is unconstitutional to require any non-union members to pay to reimburse unions that bargain on their behalf. Today’s ruling exempts only the eight plaintiffs from fair share.
Unions will not be deterred by today’s ruling, said Van Roekel. “Despite today’s decision, we know that public sector workers will continue to organize — in public sector bargaining states and non-bargaining states, in agency fee states and right to work states — because public sector workers know that a union is the best way for all of us to ensure good schools, quality public services and economic prosperity.”