Reactionary Judicial Activism, Unions, And The Walking Dead

In the recently decided Harris v. Quinn, Justice Alito and the conservative majority continued the Court’s assault (which began two years ago in Knox v. SEIU) on public employee unions, which just happens (!) to coincide with a larger assault on those unions by Republicans controlling state governments.

This is activism pure and simple. And it used to be that, in the judicial realm, conservatives were dead set against it (remember “judicial restraint”?). But that was then and this is the age of reactionary judicial activism, an activism increasingly blessed by conservatives-turned-radicals like George Will, who in January of this year was cheerleading for conservative judges to be “less deferential to legislatures” and who wrote:

Conservatives’ advocacy of judicial restraint serves liberalism by leaving government’s growth unrestrained.

In Harris, the conservatives took Will’s advice and took it upon themselves to basically overrule the democratic process—legislators in the state of Illinois in this case—and have given, in the words of Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe“a constitutional underpinning to the anti-union ‘right to work’ stance.” Tribe says,

Harris is the latest chapter in the troubling story of the Roberts court indulging attenuated constitutional arguments against economic regulation.

Tribe concludes his piece on Monday’s anti-union decision this way:

Harris, despite its arguably narrow holding and apparent restraint, is thus part of a dangerous trend of veiling deregulatory economics in constitutional law. The Roberts court seems to be forgetting one of the principal lessons of constitutionalism since the New Deal: Economic policy should be made by legislatures, not courts. Harris is the Roberts court’s most recent retreat from that long-standing and wise consensus. It would do well to retreat no further.

Retreat no further? Come on. This is all about retreating. All the way back to the 19th century.

Back in 1977, the Court, not then openly hostile to the idea of unions, held in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that private sector employees and public sector employees are essentially the same and that public employees represented by unions, even if they were not members, could be required to pay fees for the collective bargaining services they received, even if they objected to the political activities of the union. The Court essentially stopped in its tracks the idea that there could be freeloading public sector workers—those who took the benefits unions brought them but who didn’t want to pay for those benefits. Without such protection from freeloaders, unions—who are required by law to bargain for both members and non-members—could be in deep, deep trouble, especially if freeloading became the norm.

Monday’s decision in Harris V. Quinn, building on the anti-Abood stance Alito adopted in Knox v. SEIU, has guaranteed that public sector unions have something to worry about—if the composition of the Court is not changed before Alito can come up with enough votes to completely overrule the Abood decision, since right now it appears there is some teensy-weensy respect still left for stare decisis.  (Alito may soon have his chance in a case before the Ninth Circuit right now, Friedrichs v. CTA, in which a group of California teachers are seeking a reversal of Abood.)

Here is the way labor and civil rights attorney Moshe Marvit opened his piece for The New Republic:

The Supreme Court on Monday issued a wide-ranging opinion that will heavily impact the future of labor in America. The majority opinion in Harris v. Quinn held that home healthcare workers in Illinois and every other state that has a similar program are only “partial” or “quasi” public employeesas opposed to “full-fledged public employees” and thus don’t have to pay fees for labor representation. While the majority, led by Justice Samuel Alito, did not go so far as to fully gut the ability of public sector unions to finance their existence, the decision in the case was by no means a moderate one. Harris v. Quinn has set the stage for the eventual overruling of Abood; it has confused and perverted the concept of free-riders; and it has created an impossible standard for unions to meet.

A right-wing law professor sympathetic to the freeloaders, John Eastman, sees it pretty much the same:

While not quite the stake in the heart that would kill public employee unions altogether, today’s decision in Harris v. Quinn has at least made Abood a ghoul, one of the walking dead.

Yes, and soon the middle class, the beneficiary of private and public sector union activity, will also be part of the walking dead. (Some think the death, if not the walking, has already come.)

After Monday’s terrible Court decisions, HuffPo featured this graphic:

liberals crushed in court

Take a look at those faces. When I saw that graphic the first thing I thought about was Hillary Clinton. She could win two terms as president. She could change that headline, change those faces, at least those who are getting old (Scalia and Kennedy are 78 this year). For all her faults, for all her snuggling up to Wall Street wallets, liberals who don’t much like her would do well to think about the graphic above (and about the fact that Ginsburg is 81 and Breyer is 76). Those five men, if they haven’t already, may end up doing more lasting damage to the country than even George W. Bush’s decision to invade and occupy Iraq.

And if Hillary Clinton can do anything to stop them, I’m with her all the way.

 

Advertisements

You, Too, Can Phone Wobbly Republicans And Tell Them To Say No To Beggars Wages In Missouri

“So-called “Right to Work” laws are an attempt by CEOs and multinational corporations to eliminate unions and stack the deck even more in their favor. It’s a power grab by the same people who ship our jobs overseas and offshore their profits—and it would hurt all working people in Missouri.”

Missouri AFL-CIO

First it was Grover Norquist sticking his icky head in Missouri politics. Now comes FreedomWorks, the reactionary Tea Party group first funded by a Koch Bro, brazenly attempting to alter lives here in the Show-Me State. Extremists Going 'All In' to Make Missouri the Most Anti-Worker State in the U.S. We Can Change That

In Missouri FreedomWorks is targeting those it considers to be wobbly Republican House members, those few right-wingers in our Republican-dominated state house who may not yet be ready to decimate labor unions by voting for Right-to-Beg legislation.

“Right-to-Work protects Missouri workers from oppressive union tactics and cuts off funding to Big Government politicians,” says a post on FreedomWorks’ website. “It’s simple. No one should be forced to pay dues to a union.” No, it’s simple: People who lie should be ashamed of themselves.

Right-to-Beg laws actually don’t do anything except undermine the one thing that serves to protect workers, which is a union-negotiated and union-enforced contract. By allowing workers to get union benefits without paying for union representation, such laws threaten the very existence of the union and—the real point of such laws—do away with the voice of the worker in the workplace. That is why the efforts to pass such laws here in Missouri and elsewhere are supported by business interests, who enjoy the fact that they can pay their employees thousands of dollars a year less in Right-to-Beg states.

freedomworksWhen FreedomWorks or any other right-winging group or individual says that “No one should be forced to pay dues to a union,” they are purposely ignoring the fact that employees covered by a union contract aren’t forced, cannot in fact be forced, to join the union and pay union dues. What they can be required to pay is their share of the union’s cost of representing employees in that bargaining unit, including those employees who don’t want to join the union. Federal law mandates that unions represent all bargaining unit employees whether they pay union dues or not, and it is simply common sense that says if you get something from the union you should have to pay for it. If you don’t want to be represented by a union then you don’t have to go to work at a place where workers are represented by a union. But if you do take such work, then you should have to pay your fair share of the costs of providing you with and policing an employment contract.

In any case, the Republican targets of the FreedomWorks campaign in the Missouri House are listed below. If you want, you can counter the right-wing attempt to destroy unions and lower wages in Missouri by phoning them and urging them to oppose HB 1770:

Rep. Wanda Brown…Office Phone: (573) 751-3971

Rep. Sue Entlicher…Office Phone: (573) 751-1347

Rep. Chuck Gatchenberger…Office Phone: (573) 751-3572

Rep. Ron Hicks…Office Phone: (573) 751-1470

Rep. Bart Korman…Office Phone: (573) 751-2689

Rep. Jim Neely…Office Phone: (573) 751-0246

Rep. Donna Pfautsch…Office Phone: (573) 751-9766

Rep. Bryan Spencer…Office Phone (573) 751-1460

Rep. Kathy Swan…Office Phone (573) 751-1443

How Long Will The Excluded Wait?

Robert Reich begins his latest column this way:

People ask me all the time why we don’t have a revolution in America, or at least a major wave of reform similar to that of the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the Great Society.

Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn’t there more of a ruckus?

Revolution? Ruckus? Well, why aren’t people making more election-changing noise? Reich gave three reasons, which I will list without most of his supporting material:

1) “…the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has…No one has any job security. The last thing they want to do is make a fuss and risk losing the little they have.”

2) “In prior decades students were a major force for social change. But today’s students don’t want to make a ruckus. They’re laden with debt…record numbers are still living at home.”

3) “Third and finally, the American public has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible…It’s hard to get people worked up to change society or even to change a few laws when they don’t believe government can possibly work.”

That last reason for a reluctance to raise a ruckus can be documented by the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, which found:

confidence in washington

As you can see, Republicans have done a good job of poisoning the well of governance, with their obstructionist tactics and willingness to sabotage the economic recovery and their refusal to do anything to address the income and wealth gap in America. But such tactics, although successful in bringing Democrats down, have damaged the Republican Party’s image profoundly. The poll found that only 36% of Republicans have significant confidence in their own party. Think about that.

But think, too, about the fact that a large part of the reason that even Republicans don’t have much confidence in their own party or their party’s leadership is that extremist teapartiers think the GOP hasn’t gone far enough in its obstructionism. Many of those folks think that John Boehner has sold them out. For God’s sake, many think that Mitch McConnell is too liberal.

As crazy as that sounds, things are actually worse. Consider the right’s reaction to Pope Francis. When the boss man of a gazillion Catholics dared to criticize increasing income and wealth inequality, when he called out “trickle-down theories” for their failure to deliver “greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” his words were branded as “pure Marxism” by Rush Limbaugh. Other right-wingers called him a socialist and FoxNews.com annointed him “the Catholic Church’s Obama.” Just a few days ago a News Editor for FoxNews.com, himself a Catholic, said that,

Pope Francis has declared war on those who aspire to provide a better life for themselves and their families, expressing the misguided snobbery of a man for whom money has never been an issue.

Such feelings run deep on the right. That FoxNews.com editor went on to say that, “the only charity the pope supports is forced redistribution.” Ahh. That’s the real offense the Pope committed. He thinks, and he thinks Jesus thinks, governments ought to be involved in seeing to it that there is a more equitable distribution of wealth. He can see with his presumably holy eyes that if the world’s poor and underserved are to utterly depend on the generosity of the rich to keep them afloat, they are a most miserable lot indeed. The Pope says trickle-down economics,

expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

All of which leads me back to Robert Reich’s column. How long will the excluded wait? Reich listed three reasons why more people don’t make a bigger fuss about the breathtaking economic inequities we see here in America and the fact that “big money is corrupting our democracy.” But he should have included a fourth reason: the big money corruption itself. Rich people, particularly rich conservative people, are buying this republic and the politicians who manage it, as well as influencing low-information voters who fall for the slick and misleading advertising that big money buys.

If you have the stomach for it, I invite you to read one the most depressing articles I have read in a long time. The Mother Jones piece, titled “Meet the New Kochs: The DeVos Clan’s Plan to Defund the Left,” chronicles how a wealthy Michigan family, whose billions were acquired through the pyramid-like distributing company Amway, was able to purchase the votes necessary to pass union-crippling right-to-work legislation in a state that was once union friendly.

I will confess that after reading the article, my usual political optimism was shaken. I fear for our future if something isn’t done to restrain the flow of money into our politics. The 87-year-old Richard DeVos, who cofounded Amway, and his eldest son Dick DeVos should not be able to do what they did in Michigan. And what they did has effects beyond the obvious race to the bottom in terms of workers’ wages and working conditions:

Passing right-to-work in Michigan was more than a policy victory. It was a major score for Republicans who have long sought to weaken the Democratic Party by attacking its sources of funding and organizing muscle…So DeVos and his allies hit labor—and the Democratic Party—where it hurt: their bank accounts. By attacking their opponents’ revenue stream, they could help put Michigan into play for the GOP heading into the 2016 presidential race—as it was more than three decades earlier, when the state’s Reagan Democrats were key to winning the White House.

It’s pretty simple. Republicans believe that if they can weaken, if not destroy, labor unions, they can control the country’s politics:

the Michigan fight has given hope—and a road map—to conservatives across the country working to cripple organized labor and defund the left. Whereas party activists had for years viewed right-to-work as a pipe dream, a determined and very wealthy family, putting in place all the elements of a classic political campaign, was able to move the needle in a matter of months. “Michigan is Stalingrad, man,” one prominent conservative activist told me. “It’s where the battle will be won or lost.”

That Michigan fight is going on here in Missouri. The very first hearing this year in the Missouri House, which is dominated by right-wing Republicans, was used to promote anti-union legislation, in this case falsely titled the “Freedom To Work Act.” The only “freedom” written into this bill is freedom for workers who benefit from union representation on the job to opt out of having to pay any fee to the union for its collective bargaining services. In other words, this bill, and other so-called right-to-work legislation, establishes that there is, after all, such a thing as a free lunch.eric burlison

The idea, obviously, is to starve unions of needed resources, even though the Missouri bill’s sponsor, a Springfield Republican, claimed that the legislation “would make unions stronger.” Let me state the obvious here: If a right-winger tells you that a bill he is sponsoring will make unions stronger, he is lying through his gold teeth.

It’s equally obvious that if unions are starved of funds and can’t afford to defend the interests of working people, both on the job and during the election cycle, then rich Republicans will have their way. That is why rich Republicans pour so much money into these efforts, with 24 states now having such laws as the one being crafted here in Missouri. And if more states follow the trend and engage in a race to the bottom, the situation Robert Reich described—sinking middle incomes, growing poverty, and rich people realizing most of the economic gains—will get worse.

And if it gets bad enough, the ruckus, or the revolution, will come.

2014 Election Is Crucial For Unions

As Republicans in Michigan continue the nationwide right-wing assault on labor unions—the Republican-dominated legislature just passed a falsely descriptive “right to work” law—we, those of us sympathetic to unions and their political friends in the Democratic Party, need to remember how we got to this point.

The 2010 mid-term elections represented a terrible triumph of reactionary forces in America. The Tea Party movement, born partly as a result of white people’s irrational fears over a black Democrat in the White’s House, helped put a lot of extremist conservative Republicans in both national offices and, more important in terms of attacking unions, in state offices.

Michigan, traditionally one of the friendliest states in the union for unions, was lost in 2010 to the anti-union zealots, many of whom have business ties that make them reactive enemies of collective bargaining and union power. One of those with business ties is the governor, Rick Snyder, a former business executive. No surprise, after initially seeming to be uninterested in passing right-to-freeload legislation, he most likely will now sign the bill.

My point here is that the 2010 elections should teach Democrats a lesson. The energy and effort that was put into the election and reelection of President Obama needs to be replicated in the off years, as that is when the party in power is most vulnerable to insurgency.

Here are the turnout rates for the 2008, 2010, and 2012 elections, as provided by the United States Elections Project:

voter turnout in us and michigan

As you can see, general enthusiasm for participating was down in 2010, the year the Tea Party insurgents began their assault on labor, and, according to a report by CBS News, exit polling indicated that lack of enthusiasm hurt Democrats more:

Core Democratic groups stayed away in droves Tuesday, costing Democratic House candidates dearly at the polls. 

Hispanics, African Americans, union members and young people were among the many core Democratic groups that turned out in large numbers in the 2008 elections, propelling Mr. Obama and Democratic House candidates to sizable victories. In 2010, turnout among these groups dropped off substantially, even below their previous midterm levels. 

Voters under the age of 30 comprised 18 percent of the electorate in 2008 and nearly 13 percent in 2006 but only made up 11 percent of the electorate in 2010. The share of voters from union households dropped from 23 percent in 2006 and 21 percent in 2008 to 17 percent in 2010. African Americans made up 13 percent of the electorate in 2008 but fell to 10 percent in 2010. Such apathy likely cost the Democrats House seats as voters in each of these groups cast ballots for Democratic House candidates by at least 15 point margins.

It will be along road to unseating those right-wingers, in Michigan and elsewhere, who won seats in 2010, but the effort started with this year and it needs to continue in 2014, or else more damage will be done to unions and thus to working people.

Joplin Globe Focuses On Right-To-Freeload

The Joplin Globe, undoubtedly because it doesn’t have the resources to assign a reporter full-time to the goings-on in Jefferson City, doesn’t often feature stories on what is happening in state government.  But Sunday’s edition was an exception.

A front-page story by Susan Redden brought readers up to date on the right-to-freeload legislation percolating in the Missouri legislature.

I doubt too many locals knew that Bill White, Joplin representative in the Missouri House, is sponsoring his own right-to-freeload bill. From Redden’s article:

White said current Missouri laws are seen by those involved in economic development as the reason some manufacturers choose neighboring states such as Kansas or Oklahoma.

White’s bill specifies that no worker, to be hired or to keep a job, will be required to join a union or pay union dues. White said his bill “is a freedom-of-association issue.”

“Why should someone have to join a union and pay dues to be able to work? I don’t think that’s what this country’s about,” he said.

“Only 11.9 percent of the work force is union. I don’t think they can make the case that the other 88 percent can’t have a good job, or do a good job.”

I’ve dealt with this nonsense before, but I find it amazing that White, a former attorney who is married to a doctor, fails to bring to his argument any examples of businesses that did not locate in Missouri, or businesses that relocated to other states, because of our state’s anti-freeloading statutes.  Not one example.

Joplin’s representative in the Missouri Senate, business-owner Ron Richard, also favors the right-to-freeload legislation, although he concedes it’s not going to pass.  Here’s his reasoning, such as it is, for supporting efforts to further weaken labor unions in Missouri:

“I’ve always been told (right-to-work) makes the state more attractive, particularly to manufacturers,” he said.

I’ve always been told“? How about a little evidence, Mr. Richard? What can you provide us to support your view? One would think before you simply accept such claims you would ask for some examples of businesses that made decisions based on the right-to-freeload status of the various states and then share those examples with the rest of us, your constituents.

As Michael Kelsay, writing in the Globe‘s Sunday Forum, said,

Employers uniformly report that right-to-work is not an important factor in their location decision. In 2009, Area Development magazine’s annual survey of small manufacturers found that right-to-work was ranked 14th as a factor in location decisions; in 2010, right-to-work had fallen to 20th as a factor in location decisions. Over the past several years, right-to-work has never ranked in the 10 of the most important factors that influence manufacturers’ location decisions. Those factors that are consistently ranked in the top 10 of importance are factors such as highway accessibility, availability of skilled labor, state and local tax incentives, tax exemptions and construction costs.

And Kelsay provided the most succinct description possible of the right-to-freeload bills pending in Missouri:

The legislation will lower wages and benefits and will have no impact on job growth.

______________________

Finally, again in the paper’s Forum section, a frequent commenter on this blog, William Gerald Malan, wrote a nice piece on what our Missouri legislators are proposing in regards to tax policy (eliminating the corporate franchise tax at a cost of $85 million, while simultaneously modifying tax credits in ways that hurt the poor), and whether Missouri will continue to receive extended federal unemployment benefit funds (thousands of Missourians will be eligible for the benefits beginning next month, but three Republicans are delaying passage in the Senate).

Gerry ends his column:

Missourians need help now.

Indeed.

Right To Freeload Legislation Uncertain In Missouri

I watched a simultaneously hopeful and disturbing clip of Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley this morning on the issue of the Right to Freeload* legislation that just passed through a Senate committee.  The clip was posted by Missouri News Horizon and you’ll see why I found it both hopeful and disturbing in a minute.

Missouri Senate President Pro tem Rob Mayer is trying to figure out a way to not only get freeloading legislation passed through his chamber, but get it passed by a veto-proof margin.  Democratic Governor Nixon will, of course, nix any such freeloading law, and since no Senate Democrats will support it either, that means Mayer will likely need all Senate Republicans to support it in order to overcome Nixon’s veto.  That will be tough to do, hopefully.

But what I want to focus on is the pro-business agenda the Missouri legislature is currently pursuing.  Obviously, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying to attract businesses to this state or any state.  We need jobs.  The problem arises when the pro-business agenda trumps all other considerations.  In other words, The Missouri Chamber of Commerce should not be running the state legislature.  But that’s how it seems.

The Missouri Chamber has outlined its priorities for this session in its Fix the Six agenda, which includes weakening our state’s minimum wage law, limiting the rights of injured workers, and making it easier to fire employees.  This anti-worker agenda is, of course, advanced under the rubric of “promoting jobs” in Missouri.  Fair enough. The Chamber of Commerce has a right to promote its agenda on behalf of businesses, just like labor unions have a right to promote theirs on behalf of workers in the state.

But in Missouri, now dominated by Republicans, the only agenda that matters is the business agenda. In the clip I saw this morning, House Speaker Steve Tilley classified the Right to Freeload legislation as “not a priority.”  That’s good, at least for Missouri workers.  That is the hopeful part of the interview.

However, it appears that the Chamber of Commerce wishes it would have named its pro-business agenda, “Fix the Seven,” since it now sees an opportunity to push through the Right to Freeload in Missouri, what with all the concerted attacks on unions by various Republican governors and legislatures around the country.

Either “Fix the Seven” didn’t resonate well with Chamber marketers or they just didn’t think they had a snowball’s chance to get freeloading through this session.  Whatever it was, the Chamber didn’t originally include the Right to Freeload on its agenda and Speaker Tilley made that point in the short interview:

Tilley: My concerns is [sic] that when you have the business groups come together and said,”Here’s our top six things,” it wasn’t in the top six things and so my thought process is try to address what they think are the top priorities and then when once we’re done with those things, then we can take a look at it.

Question: The state chamber came out, though, late last week, and said they do back right to work…

Tilley: All I know is when they submitted—I agree—and I’m not saying that there’s not a lot of people in the House that wouldn’t support it.  I’m just saying that right now we’re going to focus on the things that the business coalition sent us at the beginning of the year that we can find some compromise.  And I think in the “Fix the Six,” I think what you’ll see is, you know, you’ll see bipartisan support for quite a few of those, maybe not all of them, but quite a few.

Okay.  What we have here is Tilley acknowledging that he wants to concentrate on what is already on the Chamber’s wish list, without adding something new to it.  But look at that language he used:

“…try to address what they think are the top priorities…”

“…we’re going to focus on the things that the business coalition sent us at the beginning of the year…”

That is the disturbing part.  What is it that gives the Missouri Chamber of Commerce such sway over legislation in Missouri?  Why should it have such sway?

What if a Democratic Speaker said this:

“…we’re going to focus on the things that the labor unions sent us at the beginning of the year…and when we’re done with those things then we will take a look at their other desires…”

No, a balanced approach, recognizing both the needs of business and the wellbeing of workers, is the proper way to conduct the people’s affairs in this state or any state.  But here in Missouri it’s all one-sided, and, truthfully, it has been for years.

Fortunately, polls are showing that the people around the country are siding with workers and their unions.

In a CBS/New York Times poll, 60% oppose killing collective bargaining rights and 56% are opposed to cutting pay and benefits to reduce state budget deficits.

By a 42-31 margin, the public supports public sector unions against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, in a Pew Research Poll.  Those who identified as Independents supported the unions by a narrower 39-34 margin.

I did find even better news in the Pew poll.  If you look at the results below, those folks with modest incomes overwhelmingly support the unions because they apparently understand that unions represent the best hope they have of moving up the income ladder. 

Also, younger folks are overwhelmingly supporting the union by a difference of 33%.  That is a good sign. Perhaps we haven’t yet seen the end of the era of unionism, but only if unions can win the propaganda battle as workers age.  Republicans and pro-business zealots are very, very good at this kind of propaganda. Here are the Pew poll results:

_____________________

* For those who don’t know, Right to Freeload, or as it is widely known, Right to Work, is a state statute that allows workers to obtain benefits obtained through union advocacy without having to pay union dues.  I suggest you never go out to eat with a Right to Freeload supporter because he will always—always—expect you to pick up the check.

%d bloggers like this: