Franklin Delano Roosevelt observed, “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy, forget in time that men have died to win them.” By the time this commentary appears, the Supreme Court will have heard oral arguments for Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. A ruling in favor of the plaintiff would overturn a decades-old […]
Franklin Delano Roosevelt observed, “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy, forget in time that men have died to win them.”
By the time this commentary appears, the Supreme Court will have heard oral arguments for Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. A ruling in favor of the plaintiff would overturn a decades-old compromise found in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that permits organized labor to collect agency fees from non-members, instead of full dues, for services rendered on behalf of the entire workforce.
The legal compromise allowed workers to opt out of supporting union-sponsored political speech while defraying the considerable operational costs of staffing, administering due process and enforcing the contract in the workplace.
The outcome is of importance for those who believe in the right to bargain. Unions are still required by federal law to negotiate an agreement, to enforce its provisions, and to represent both members and non-members. Rest assured that non-members call the union hall as soon as they experience conflict in the workplace.
Union leaders are generally well grounded in the precepts of John Stewart Mill’s utilitarianism. The objective in all bargaining remains the achievement of the greatest good for the greatest number at all times. Every worker benefits from the superior compensation packages that are the hallmark of collective bargaining plus the assurance that decisions about future employment will not be arbitrary or capricious.
Unions came into existence as a result of the inevitable frictions between labor and the investor class. We must never forget that capital found it acceptable to own labor at this nation’s inception. Even after the Emancipation Proclamation, the reign of the Robber Barons inflicted subsistence pay, unsafe working conditions and child labor upon American society. Organized labor had a role in changing most of that.
The financial elites have gradually worked to erode the power of organized labor by using their wealth to lobby for anti-labor legislation such as the ironically named Right-to-Work laws that seek to abolish the collective bargaining process. As those efforts have come to fruition, we have witnessed an ever-widening economic chasm forming between Chief Executive Officers and their employees.
Respect for social justice requires that the Supreme Court rule against the plaintiff in the Friedrich case because to do otherwise would be harmful to the common welfare of those in public service and poorly serve the memory of those who died in the fight for workers’ rights. We can only hope the Justices recall the words of former President Jimmy Carter when he declared, “Every advance in this half-century – Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, aid to education, one after another – came with the support and leadership of American Labor.”