Three Head Shaking Decisions from the Supreme Court Threaten Our Progress

July 2, 2014

The attacks on our rights as union workers just keep coming.

First it was last month’s ruling in Vergara v. California claiming that teacher due process laws violate the state’s constitution. Now the United States Supreme Court is getting in on the act.

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Quinn v. Harris limiting unions in Illinois representing home health care workers from collecting agency fees is another in a string of reactionary judicial rulings targeting workers, women, communities of color and the environment.

While the ruling in Quinn is narrow, it is nonetheless a shot across the bow of labor unions around the country. Having all employees who benefit from union representation -- such as collective bargaining and representation for grievances -- pay agency fees even if they choose not to become full members of the union is only fair.

The union is required to represent all workers, even those who don’t pay fees. Elimination of such fees will only lead to fewer resources to work with while burdening unions and dues paying members with providing representation and services to those unwilling to pay for those benefits.

Those who belong to a union know how important it is. But the far right of this country, backed by anti-worker corporate interests, continues to hammer away at all the work we’ve done to strengthen labor, and with it, make it possible for us to provide a decent life for ourselves and our families. The Quinn ruling is just another example of this Supreme Court weakening the rights of labor in favor of the “rights” of corporations and businesses.

But the attack against organized labor and workers is only part of a broader political agenda to reverse the gains made during the social and civil rights movements of the 1930s and 1960s. The Roberts Court is clearly committed to returning this country to the free market, social Darwinism of the 1920s. The Supreme Court issued two additional reactionary rulings as it closed out its term:

• In the case concerning buffer zones around healthcare clinics, the court would have us believe that demonstrators in front of women’s health clinics are simply exercising their first amendment rights. Actually they are part of an orchestrated effort designed to turn back the clock on Roe v. Wade by frightening women seeking abortions, and in a number of cases murdering the men and women who work in these clinics.

• In the Hobby Lobby case, the court once again aligns itself with businesses and corporate interests, as in Citizens United, while denying the right of women who work for those companies the right to make decisions about their health care. The court ruled that the religious beliefs of the owners of a company trump the interests and beliefs of the workers who are employed by the company.

It’s a sad irony that many of the media commentators and elected leaders who will decry one or more of these recent Supreme Court rulings stand in support of the Vergara court ruling that is predicated on taking away rights from teachers in the name of improving public education.

More than anything, these decisions point out that workers and our allies in the progressive community can neither rely on the courts nor on elected leaders. So what can we do? We need to remain strong in our solidarity. More importantly, we need to redouble our efforts to educate everyone we represent and the public at large on all of these issues. Ultimately we must remember that our power lies in organizing our members and forging ties with our community partners to rebuild powerful, militant social movements that can demand justice, not hope and beg for it.