Another potential blow to middle class in age of growing inequality
The Supreme Court decided today to hear an anti-union lawsuit, Friedrichs v. CTA. Although the California Teachers Association (CTA) was named as the defendant, a ruling in the case will equally impact the California Federation of Teachers. Depending on whether the Court rules narrowly or broadly, the decision could also affect all public sector unions in the United States.
The plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. CTA were recruited by the anti-union Center for Individual Rights to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), which upheld the constitutionality of agency shop clauses in collective bargaining agreements in the public sector. An agency shop allows members of the collective bargaining unit to opt out of membership in the union, and to instead pay “agency fees” to support only the collective bargaining activities of the union.
Unions have a legal duty to represent all workers in their bargaining units. The Abood ruling established that agency fees compensate unions for that work and prevent “free riding” of workers who opt out of the union.
This case is the latest attempt by well-funded employer interests to undercut the ability of unions to represent workers, in this case, in the public sector. This assault, underway for decades, but now picking up steam, has resulted in a sharp decline in median wages for working people and the decline of the middle class alongside the increasing concentration of income and wealth in the hands of the one per cent. It includes attacks in the courts like Friedrichs, so-called “right to work” legislation in Wisconsin and Michigan, and enormously increased political spending by union opponents.
“Without a strong labor movement to protect working people, the United States will continue to see the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few while the vast majority of workers fall further and further behind”, said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers. “The road to greater economic inequality and the New Gilded Age is paved with destructive lawsuits like Friedrichs. I hope the court, in agreeing to hear the case, will end by upholding the principles of the Abood decision, which is in the interests of unions, working people, and broadly supports the middle class standard of living in America.”