SEIU Attorney: Supreme Court case bigger threat than progressives realize

WASHINGTON - A recently argued U.S. Supreme Court case, pushed on the justices by the anti-worker National Right to Work Committee, is an even bigger threat to unions - and to progressives in general - than everybody realizes, a top Service Employees attorney who worked on the union's friend-of-the-court brief says.

And, anticipating that the majority of the justices may rule against her union and against unions in general in the case, Harris vs. Quinn, SEIU is already considering new ways of approaching and organizing workers, adds union counsel Nicole Berner.

Berner's warning came at a May 13 panel discussion at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank. Panelists were scheduled to talk about the 1st Amendment - which guarantees freedom of speech - and campaign finance. And they covered several recent High Court rulings, including one earlier this year, that open the floodgates for unlimited flows of campaign dollars from corporations and the 1 percent.

The court uses the 1st Amendment's free speech guarantee to declare that "money is speech" and let the cash flow.  But Berner said the justices may use the amendment's right of free association to grant the Right to Work crowd's demand: To bar unions from collecting money - even just money for contract bargaining and administration - from any worker.

"The Right to Work Committee and" dissident "home care attendants in Illinois said that by charging a fee for administering the contract, the union was violating their 1st Amendment right of free association," she explained. Lower courts tossed out the case, saying the Right to Work committee had no right to sue, because the payments didn't hurt that group.  But the justices took the case.  Illinois - the  "Quinn" in the case is Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn - and the feds want the justices to dismiss it.  The court will issue a decision by the end of June.

If the justices rule in the Right to Work committee's favor, they would, in one stroke "turn all 50 states into Right to Work states" where unions cannot insert provisions in contracts calling for dues deductions, she added.  "By judicial fiat, Right to Work then becomes the law of the land."  The justices would be saying "our whole collective bargaining system violates the 1st Amendment."

As a result of such a ruling, unions would have to rely on voluntary contributions instead, and the track record of that road shows revenues fall drastically.  Though Berner did not say so, public sector unions in Wisconsin saw their revenues fall by half after Right Wing GOP Gov. Scott Walker rammed legislation through cutting off dues collections.

By yanking away the source of unions' money, "This decision would weaken the entire labor movement and the whole progressive community, because of the strength labor provides to it," Berner warns.

Her union, preparing for that worst case, says it leaves unions an alternative: Becoming a membership organization like the NAACP "where it could build power and people in the broad sense."

"This case is pushing us faster in that direction," she adds. SEIU is also changing to respond to the fact that "people don't work in set workplaces any more and in one job for 35 years.  So we have to figure out a different way to be strong," she concludes.

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  • In the contemporary and recent history of the U. S., JohnG's below "freedom NOT to be forced to associate" has been bolstered by Nazis, KKKs, traditional Republicans, "rights" of white people, "white citizens" councils, John Birchers, the National Association of Manufacturers, various freelance bigots and "popular" racists and drug addicts, like Glenn Beck and Russ Limbaugh.
    These are the same anti-science ignoramuses, anti-gay(many of whom are gay hypocrites) and women haters which decry such basic demarcations of human civilization as universal suffrage and universal health care.
    Perhaps JohnG is one.
    JohnG and his ilk may as well try to sell the KKK and Nazis as human rights advocates and activists if they believe that we believe they don't oppose labor's right to organize against fascism and they support the right to express democracy in the face of the guns, prisons, electric chairs, cruel detainments, tortures, mass murders, both inside and outside our gallant South (where historically fascist practices like lynching have flourished) to forward freedom.
    These groups, represented by the National Right to Work Committee which oppose labor's right to exists, along with its right to organize, are the stated and unstated face of fascism in the United States of America, and if not stopped, will ruin this country (just as they did in Germany under Hitler's fascism) as we know it, helping to destroy human life and all life on the planet earth.
    In short, if the JohnGs of the world were really concerned with freedoms in "association" , they would fight to render Jews, African Americans, gays, women, Latinos, immigrants and other oppressed groups freedom from the anti-human violence, discrimination, anti-labor persecution and genocide that the "association" that the Birchers, KKK, NAM have visited upon these: African Americans, Jews (in hundreds, even thousands of pogroms, or race riots, lynchings, burnings at stake, in the U. S.), Communists, socialists, women, gays, many, if not most Democrats, immigrants, and others(this, the clear majority of Americans).
    Traditionally, these anti-human groups have hidden behind the GOP, the National Association of Manufacturers, and other groups, to justify misogyny, racism, slavery, anti-communism, succession and war.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 05/29/2014 1:18pm (1 year ago)

  • Protection for all workers is the fundamental job and reason for unions. A decent wage, bathroom breaks, vacations with pay, the right to live a decent life without discrimination - the right to participate in the political life of the nation. Have a problem with unions? You have a problem with more than 150 million people who daily provide their labor power in exchange for a wage. We all need a union.

    Posted by Beth Edelman, 05/22/2014 1:38pm (1 year ago)

  • How can you be pro-worker, but force workers to join a union that may not be in their best interest. That's not pro-worker, its anti-worker and anti-choice. And this article even says its all about money for the unions. Don't we complain when companies put "money before people"? Isn't that exactly what the unions are doing? Progressive means more freedom, not less. Unions need to adapt and change their business plan instead of forcing money out of workers. You should want to associate, not be forced to. The left is wrong on this issue.

    Freedom of associations also means the freedom NOT to be forced to associate.

    Posted by JohnG, 05/21/2014 12:49pm (1 year ago)

  • You show your bias in the very first sentence by describing the NRWC as anti-worker. NO, it is anti-Union. And unions are anti-worker.

    Posted by Kathy Robertson, 05/21/2014 1:37am (1 year ago)

  • The right to free association means the ability for employees to be independent of employer intimidation, coercion, pressure or threats and to collectively decide to form their own organization (union) to resist employer schemes to prevent solidarity among workers in bargaining units appropriate to their workplace.
    MOVE TO AMEND may be the only alternative to the Big Boss offensive unleashed by the Citizen United decision and anti-worker National Right to Work committee. Yes we can.

    Posted by Richard Grassl, 05/19/2014 5:07pm (1 year ago)

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