Fair Share Union Fees for Public Sector Employees

— by Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Jewish Labor Committee

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States

The right to form and join unions in both the public and private sectors is critically important to working men and women in the United States, giving them a voice in economic and political spheres. Unions help to build and sustain a strong middle class and mitigate income inequality, which can destabilize our society. In the public sector, however, the future of unions is being threatened in a case recently argued before the United States Supreme Court.

The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, involves the issue of “fair share fees” for nonunion members in public sector jobs. Public sector unions help to ensure decent pay, fair working conditions, and a range of benefits for public employees, such as teachers, firefighters, social workers, police and others. Where there is union representation in a public or private sector workplace, the union is legally obligated to negotiate on behalf of all employees, including the nonunion workers. Because these workers benefit from union representation, they should pay their fair share for the union’s work on their behalf; otherwise, they are getting a free ride by reaping the benefits paid for by others. In Friedrichs, the practice of imposing fair share fees for public sector unions is being challenged.

In the 1977 case of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that it is constitutional for public sector unions to collect fair share fees from those employees who choose not to join a union, but are still legally required to be represented by that union. These fees are to reflect only the costs involved in negotiating for “bread and butter issues,” not political activities. The Supreme Court decision in Friedrichs, which is expected in June, could change that 1977 ruling.

If the Supreme Court overturns Abood, the impact of this decision would extend beyond public school teachers in California to all public employees throughout the country. Without the fair share fee, public sector unions would have fewer resources to handle negotiations and grievances. The result would be to adversely affect all employees in public sector workplaces with union members. Union resources would be further reduced as public employees decide to forego union membership in an attempt to gain the benefits of union services without paying their fair share of the costs. Removing the fair share fee requirement may also impede state and local governments’ ability to recruit and maintain highly skilled employees: if public sector workers earn less and have more precarious work situations than their private sector counterparts, more people will be inclined to work in the private sector.

The Jewish Labor Committee stands with public sector unions and with the decision of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. We view the Friedrichs case as the most recent manifestation of an ongoing multifaceted campaign to reverse over a century’s worth of hard-won gains by American workers to have strong unions defending their interests in the public as well as the private sectors of our society. The Jewish Labor Committee is firmly opposed to this most recent attack on unions and on workers’ rights.

The Fear is Palpable

Crossposted from Democratic Convention Watch

Today is Tuesday the 5th of June.

In California, they're trying out the new jungle primary system, as well as a number of ballot initiatives. (See the full list here.) The full 9th Circuit will release its decision today on whether it will review the 3-judge panel's decision overturning the gay marriage ban. There's a non-binding primary in Montana for the GOP, and a binding primary for the Democrats. The closed party primaries held today in New Jersey are binding on both sides. There are also binding primaries on both sides in New Mexico and South Dakota, as well as the North Dakota Democratic side. Generally, this would be all over the news, especially the California primary, but instead all eyes are on Wisconsin.

 More after the jump.

In the Badger State, they're expecting turnout of about 65%, and if that threshold is cleared, there's a high probability that America and our two-party system will survive to fight another day. The lower the threshold, the higher the chance that we have seen the end of the two party system for a generation, and the higher the probability that we will see street protests that rival those this year in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Canada. 

The spending in Wisconsin on the recall is something like $30 million on the side of evil, and about $3 million on the side of truth and light. To a lot of us outside the Beltway, we're very disappointed that the DNC declined to engage, and that the sole peep from our president was a single tweet last night, which said”

@BarackObama It's Election Day in Wisconsin tomorrow, and I'm standing by Tom Barrett. He'd make an outstanding governor. –bo

Inside the beltway, they're saying that Obama was right to steer clear as that would have made it a “partisan issue” instead of a state issue, but we'll see.

The state Democrats, along with the unions, have knocked almost a million doors, and phone banked almost a million homes, they expect to do even more today. If Barrett wins today, it is the triumph of many very hard-working, dedicated boots on the ground who will convince people in the third gubernatorial recall in US history (the others were in 1921 and 2003) that their votes matter. In a state where the airwaves are ruled by Walker's cronies' money, AND THEY CHEAT, a win will be exclusively due to the power of grassroots, of handshakes, a triumph of what elections are supposed to be – issues and actions. 

Don't underestimate the power of money in elections, and be aware that the Walker contingent is so full of lies that they've sunk this low:

Reports began to surface Sunday from around Wisconsin that those canvassing for Governor Scott Walker were informing residents that if they had signed a recall petition that there was no need for them to vote today as their signature was their vote.

WE know that's not true, but most people aren't smart where politics and elections are concerned. Hopefully voters took the time to listen to the two debates, wherein Barrett stuck to the facts and Walker sidestepped, ignored questions and outright lied. Hopefully, the voters are paying attention to the fact that Walker is the only governor with a legal defense fund, and is on the cusp of indictment. Hopefully they value schools and human beings over corporate tax cuts and the selling of public lands as paid deer-hunting “farms”. 

This is the first election where the full force of Citizens United is being felt, or the second if you include the GOP presidential primary fiasco. When the votes are finally tallied, which likely won't be until early tomorrow at the earliest, will we suddenly be a plutocracy? That's question number one. Followed by the question of Milwaukee County: will the same voters who turned out in 2008 for Barack Obama come out today? If so, it will be a clear victory for Tom Barrett no matter what happens in the rest of the state. Milwaukee County is that populous, and Obama won with 62% of the vote. There are a number of people who've been interviewed who are voting for Walker NOT because they like him, but because they don't like the recall process. Are these people a large number, or just who the media chose to focus on?

Whatever the outcome, we need to learn from this situation going into November: we need to become even more focused on the idea that EVERY VOTE MATTERS. Turnout counts. Grassroots is all we've got left to fight the half million dollar (and up) donations made by the über rich. 

In my household, the fear is truly palpable, and it will be a long night. Fingers crossed the dawn brings joy.

Reflections on labor unions since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire

— Hannah Lee

Friday, March 25th was the 100th anniversary of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 young female workers.  This tragedy propelled reforms in the conditions of these sweatshops and innovative labor laws were enacted to protect workers.  The division of Fire Prevention was also created as part of the Fire Department.  “Among other restrictions, all doors must now open outwards, no doors are to be locked during working hours, sprinkler systems must be installed if a company employs more than 25 people above the ground floor, and fire drills are mandatory for buildings lacking sprinkler systems.”

Here are some personal reflections on the garment factories in the years since 1911.  My mother was a worker in these factories– still sweatshops– until her retirement.  My family arrived in the United States in 1967 and, in the beginning, she did piecework at home, but the pay was terrible (even worse than at the factories).  When her youngest child (my brother, now a professor of finance at the University of Maryland) started full-day kindergarten, she went to work in the factories.

My stories of the unions are not as rosy as in the history textbooks.  The bosses kept two sets of timecards for each worker.  When the union representatives came by for a visit, the bosses would whip out the “legitimate” ones.  My mother chose to be paid by the piece, instead of the hour, because she didn’t want to be henpecked for her diligence (which was good).  She trained herself to not use the bathroom on the job because they were uniformly filthy.  However, the health insurance benefits from a union membership were invaluable and in her retirement, my mother has volunteered with her union.

Being a concerned mother, she would excuse herself at school dismissal time to walk us home from school, give us a snack, and return to work, putting me in charge of my younger siblings.  She would work until closing time.  (My father worked in Chinese restaurants six-to-seven days a week, so he was never home in the evenings.)

The recent novel by Jean Kwok called Girl in Translation is as accurate to my childhood and upbringing in the world of New York’s garment factories as a novel can be.  Until I read her fictionalized memoir, I’d forgotten how the thick dust in the factories settled on everything, getting into all of our crevices and coating our skin.

The legacy of the ILGWU, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (“look for the union label” was the union song) is long-lasting.  My siblings and I all earned multiple degrees: I received a bachelor’s from Brown, a M.S. in Epidemiology from Columbia, and was an All-But-Dissertation Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Epidemiology at N.Y.U.; my sister earned a bachelor’s from Yale and a master’s in education from Stanford; and my brother also earned a bachelor’s from Brown and a M.B.A. from N.Y.U.  In the next generation: my elder daughter just graduated with honors from the University of Chicago, with a degree in Linguistics .

Triangle Factory Fire Memorial at Nat’l Museum of Amer. Jewish History

One hundred years ago on March 25th, 1911, the Triangle Waist Company in New York City erupted in flames, and the resulting deaths of 146 people, mostly Jewish and Italian women immigrant workers, many of them teenage girls, galvanized a city and a movement. The Triangle fire was a watershed moment in the history of the American Jewish labor movement and social reform.

On March 24, 2011, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, the Jewish Labor Committee, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN), the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO and the National Museum of American Jewish History are joining forces to commemorate this tragic event, honor those who gave their lives and discuss the evolution of the labor and reform movements that the Triangle fire inspired.

Join us for this extraordinary program, including a documentary film about the fire and its aftermath and viewing of the first floor exhibit at the new National Museum of American Jewish History. Hear about JSPAN’s new initiative to advance the Kosher Clothes movement here. Tickets are $36 (students $18) but seating is limited. Advance ticket purchase is absolutely necessary from Ruthanne Madway, JSPAN Executive Director, 215-546-3732

More after the jump.

The fire at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City, which claimed the lives of 146 young immigrant workers, is one of the worst disasters since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

This incident has had great significance to this day because it highlights the inhumane working conditions to which industrial workers can be subjected. To many, its horrors epitomize the extremes of industrialism.

The tragedy still dwells in the collective memory of the nation and of the international labor movement. The victims of the tragedy are still celebrated as martyrs at the hands of industrial greed.

The Triangle Waist Company was in many ways a typical sweated factory in the heart of Manhattan, at 23-29 Washington Place, at the northern corner of Washington Square East. Low wages, excessively long hours, and unsanitary and dangerous working conditions were the hallmarks of sweatshops. …

Even today, sweatshops have not disappeared in the United States. They keep attracting workers in desperate need of employment and illegal immigrants, who may be anxious to avoid involvement with governmental agencies. Recent studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor found that 67% of Los Angeles garment factories and 63% of New York garment factories violate minimum wage and overtime laws. Ninety-eight percent of Los Angeles garment factories have workplace health and safety problems serious enough to lead to severe injuries or death.

Judge Blocks Wisconsin’s Union-Busting Bill On Procedural Grounds

From Talking Point Memo:

A state judge in Wisconsin has just issued a temporary restraining order blocking Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) newly-passed law curtailing public employee unions, on the grounds that the GOP-controlled legislature appeared to have violated state public notice requirements when quickly passing the bill last week.

Jewish Values from Aleph to Wisconsin

The Boards of Directors of ALEPH:  Alliance For Jewish Renewal and of its affiliate,  OHALAH: Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal, have adopted the statement below.

Whereas, Jews for millennia have learned and affirmed the archetypal story of the suffering of ancient Israelites as oppressed public workers under Pharaoh, building the store-cities of Pithom and Ramses, and the vigorous activism of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to organize those workers into an effective community that could win its freedom;

And whereas, ever since the great migration of millions of Jews to America many of them have upheld the rights of workers by organizing labor unions first in the garment industry, and later among teachers, social workers, and other public employees;

Therefore, the Board of ALEPH [and the Board of OHALAH] affirms and supports the right of public employees as well as those in private industry to organize unions and carry on collective bargaining, and supports the nonviolent protests now being carried on in the State of Wisconsin and elsewhere against efforts to undermine or cancel those rights.


Support the Jewish Labor Committee

John Mason

The Jewish Labor Committee is the Jewish voice within the Labor movement, and the Labor voice within the Jewish community, serving as a liaison between the two causes, sharing each side’s values.  
It was founded in February 1934 by Yiddish-speaking trade unionists, plus members of the Workmen’s Circle, the United Hebrew Trades, and the Jewish Socialist Bund, in order to combat the rise of Fascism in Europe and America.
In recent years, JLC has been active in the fight for the rights of immigrant workers, and has protested the abusive labor practices found in the Agroprocessors meat processing plant in Iowa, supported the Republic Windows and Doors workers in Chicago, and has worked for dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists. One of JLC’s programs is the Labor Seder, linking the freedom struggle of the ancient Israelites to current and past Labor struggles.
Recently, the Philadelphia JLC has lost its funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, which jeopardizes its ability to conduct its programs. Other JLC chapters may be facing this plight. If you want to help JLC, contact the main JLC office:
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