labor rights

Alito Leads Latest Attack on Unions

Alito and his conservative colleagues have already made clear their political zeal to harm public sector unions.
PFAW Foundation

PFAW Foundation Statement on Harris v. Quinn

WASHINGTON — In response to today’s 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn, People For the American Way Foundation President Michael Keegan released the following statement:

“In yet another 5-4 decision that runs roughshod over the rights of working people, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority today put at risk the ability of many unions to have a strong voice for all workers. 

“But working people have faced attacks before and will face them again. For many years the corporate and Religious Right has tried to undermine the progressive movement by attacking public sector unions. We stand with our friends in the labor movement as they continue to fight for fair treatment and better conditions for all working Americans.”

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Roberts Court Leaves Workers and Employers Hanging

A case dismissal leaves intact a damaging lower court opinion whose questionable validity prompted the dismissal.
PFAW Foundation

DC Circuit Strikes Another Blow Against Working People

The DC Circuit says a rule requiring businesses to inform workers of their legal rights unconstitutionally forces businesses into compelled speech.
PFAW Foundation

Michigan Young Elected Officials “Deeply Concerned” About State’s New Anti-Labor Law

Today Michigan members of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network condemned the anti-labor legislation Governor Rick Snyder signed into law on Tuesday.

State Representative Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, Michigan, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, said:

“Michigan is a state where more than one in six workers belongs to a union.  The effects of this law will be far reaching, harming hard-working families across the state.  Workers want good jobs, decent compensation, affordable benefits, and a good standard of living.  A ‘right-to-work for less’ law would severely hurt our families by eroding their ability to bargain which could result in lower wages, and fewer benefits and less worker protections.

"These are real families – many of which are already facing tough decisions about how to make ends meet. Despite the protests of thousands of Michigan citizens, the state legislature and Gov. Snyder decided to go forward with the legislation.  We are deeply concerned about this attack on workers’ rights and middle-class families.”

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How Exxon Mobil and the Koch Brothers Helped Bring Us Michigan’s Anti-Labor Laws

Over the sound of thousands of people protesting – with voices chanting ‘shame on you!’ – Michigan’s proposed anti-labor bills were signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Rick Snyder. 

What was obvious to those gathered to speak out against the so-called “right to work” legislation was its damaging nature – its affront to workers’ ability to collectively bargain and its harm to middle-class families across the state. 

What may have been less obvious to some were the bills’ connections to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a one-stop shop for corporations looking to get special-interest legislation introduced.  Funded by the likes of Exxon Mobil and Charles Koch, ALEC promotes “model bills” for state legislatures on a number of issues.  As People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch explained in an “In Focus” report on ALEC:

ALEC propagates a wide range of “model legislation” that seeks to make it more difficult for people to hold corporations accountable in court; gut the rights and protections of workers and consumers; encumber health care reform; privatize and weaken the public education system; provide business tax cuts and corporate welfare; privatize and cut public services; erode regulations and environmental laws; create unnecessary voter ID requirements; endorse Citizens United; diminish campaign finance reform; and permit greater corporate influence in elections.

One type of “model legislation” ALEC puts forward is a model “Right to Work” Act.  And as the Center for Media and Democracy points out, Michigan’s bills included almost identical language to ALEC’s model bill. This is extremely troubling – not only for the many families in Michigan that will be affected, but also for our democratic process in general. 

Because as the same Right Wing Watch report notes:

Americans are increasingly recognizing and speaking out against the disproportionate power of corporations in shaping public policy and steering politicians, and ALEC is a prime example of how Corporate America is able to buy even more power and clout in government. Rather than serve the public interest, ALEC champions the agenda of corporations which are willing to pay for access to legislators and the opportunity to write their very own legislation…. ALEC represents an alarming risk to the credibility of the political process and threatens to greatly diminish the confidence and influence ordinary people have in government.

 

PFAW

Scott Walker Blames Labor Protests for Job Losses, Boasts of 'Pro-Women' Policies

Yesterday, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) stopped by Crosstalk, the flagship radio program of the far-right group VCY America (Voice of Christian Youth). While speaking with host Vic Eliason, Walker, who had pledged to create 250,000 jobs in his first term, tried to spin his disastrous record on job creation by deriding the protests by supports of collective bargaining rights in Madison last Spring as “one of the biggest challenges” to job growth:

Walker: Well it’s interesting, look at the March to march numbers, March of last year to March of this year, there’s a reason why we had some challenges there, particularly early on. In March, April and May, people can remember what was happening, thank goodness its passed now, you can remember what was happening last Spring in our state’s Capitol. There was a lot of uncertainty, particularly for small businesses, I know having held listening sessions all around this state, small business owners more than anything want certainty, they didn’t see that around the Capitol last year so that was one of the biggest challenges out there.

But the Christian Science Monitor reports that under Walker’s leadership the “state’s lead in job losses is significantly greater than the rest of the 50 states,” including 4,300 lost jobs just this March, long-after the protests took place:

Wisconsin lost 23,900 jobs between March 2011 and March 2012, according to data released Tuesday by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state’s lead in job losses is significantly greater than the rest of the 50 states: No other state lost more than 3,500 jobs.

The majority of the losses in Wisconsin, 17,800, were in the public sector. However, the state lost more private-sector jobs, 6,100, than any other state. The only other states to report private-sector job losses in the same time period (instead of private-sector gains) were Mississippi and Rhode Island.

Governor Walker has been campaigning on a message that jobs are up in Wisconsin, responding to positive data for January and February that 17,000 jobs were added in his state. The loss of 4,300 jobs in March reversed that trend.

He attacked the state of Illinois during the interview and painted them as a laggard in economic growth:

However, Bloomberg Businessweek noted on April, 20 that Illinois is actually leading Wisconsin in job growth:

Illinois ranked third while Wisconsin placed 42nd in the most recent Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States index, which includes personal income, tax revenue and employment. Illinois gained 32,000 jobs in the 12 months ending in February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found. Wisconsin, where Walker promised to create 250,000 jobs with the help of business-tax breaks, lost 16,900.

Towards the end of the interview, Walker boasted of supporting “pro-patient, pro-women” policies. However, Walker made it more difficult for women seeking justice as a result of pay discrimination lawsuits by repealing provisions of the Equal Pay Enforcement Act, made it more difficult for women seeking an abortion and birth control, and defunded Planned Parenthood, which “cuts off 12,000 women who do not have health insurance from getting preventive health care” and hurts a program that saved the state money by focusing on preventative care.

Walker: In our state it is today, and will continue to be as long as I am governor, against the law for any employer to discriminate against a woman for employment or a promotion or anything else to deal with the workplace. It has been and it continues to be and it will be as long as I am the governor. They just love trying to make things out of nothing out there. When it comes to the pro-life legislation we passed, I would argue the things that we did are pro-women.

They’re pro-patient, they’re pro-women, they’re making sure that patients get all the facts at their disposal. And for those who claim to be about giving people a choice, shouldn’t it be an informed choice? Shouldn’t it be a choice without pressure from others out there?

The Roberts Court's 2011-12 Term: Is the Roberts Court Really a Court?

This piece originally appeared on Huffington Post.

Eric Segall, a professor of constitutional law at Georgia State University, has just written a provocative book called Supreme Myths: Why the Supreme Court Is Not a Court and Its Justices Are Not Judges. The thesis is that the Supreme Court, unbound by any court above it, unfastened by the vagueness of constitutional text, and uninhibited by the gift of life tenure, operates like a freewheeling political "veto council" and not like any court that we would recognize as doing judicial work. Professor Segall challenges the legitimacy of the Court's decisions and essentially mounts an attack on the whole institution of constitutional judicial review except where the text of the Constitution is perfectly plain and clear.

It is easy to share Professor Segall's exasperation these days, but his argument is not wholly convincing. It understates how often our other courts--federal appeals and district courts and state courts--operate in a political vein and how often they too find themselves in deep ideological conflict. It also understates how clear, coherent, and logical the Warren Court was when it interpreted even vague constitutional language, like "equal protection" or "freedom of speech." Yet, Segall's clarion call to roll back judicial review today will be read by conservative judges as an invitation to negate and undo essential lines of doctrinal development that began in the Warren Court, especially the "right to privacy" decisions under Due Process, like Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade, which Professor Segall in no uncertain terms asserts were wrongly decided.

The claim that the Supreme Court is "not a court" distracts us from what is truly at issue today. The Supreme Court is a court alright--indeed, it is the most powerful court in America, perhaps the world, and there's not much getting around that. It takes cases and controversies, writes opinions that refer to precedents and principles, and operates with the full panoply of constitutional powers reserved to the judiciary. The problem is that it is not a court committed to the rights of the people or to strong democracy unencumbered by corporate power. Indeed, it acts with most energy vindicating the rights of the powerful and the unjust. Alas, this hardly makes it an outlier in American history.

With its 2010 decision in Citizens United, the Roberts-led Court essentially cemented the institution's return to a class-bound right-wing judicial activism. Just as the Supreme Court went to war against social reform and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s, just as it nullified the meaning of Equal Protection in sanctifying "separate but equal" in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, just as it expressed the Supreme Court's pro-slavery and racist jurisprudence in the Dred Scott decision in 1857, the Citizens United decision secured the contemporary Court's unfolding legacy as the unabashed champion of corporate power and class privilege.

The 2011-2012 Supreme Court Term

Several cases currently on the Court's docket will tell us whether the Roberts Court will accelerate its assault on public policies that advance the rights and welfare of the vast majority of "natural persons" in the country. Consider:

Legal War on "Obamacare": Health Care Reform and the Contractible Commerce Clause: Of course, the blockbuster of the Term is the cluster of cases that the Court is hearing on the constitutionality of Obamacare. There are two principal challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The first, and certainly the one with the most political traction on the GOP campaign trail, is the claim that Congress has exceeded its Commerce Clause powers by compelling taxpayers to buy themselves health insurance or else pay a penalty in the program. However, the political ubiquity of this claim contrasts sharply with its feather-like legal force. Commerce Clause jurisprudence is replete with cases of Congress regulating national economic policy by compelling individuals to take actions that they would prefer not to take, such as serving customers in their restaurant that they don't want to serve or recognizing a union in their factory and reinstating workers who they fired for organizing it (see my Report for PFAW Foundation, The True Spirit of the Union: How the Commerce Clause Helped Build America and why the Corporate Right Wants to Shrink It Today, for a detailed accounting).

The ACA comes well within Congress's broad authority to address issues of national importance that affect the lives of millions of people moving and working in the streams of interstate commerce. Despite recent efforts by conservative Justices to constrict Congress's powers under the Commerce Clause, the vast majority of lawyers still believe that such powers are expansive and will be upheld even by the Roberts Court. An ABA poll of legal academics, journalists, and lawyers that allowed respondents to remain anonymous showed that fully 85% believe that the Court will uphold the ACA in full, and with a 6-3 vote seen as the most likely outcome. While the Supreme Court in the Citizens United era has been ready and willing to ignore precedent and defy logic in order to achieve its political goals, this law is so mainstream that even they are not expected to do so in this case.

The second challenge, a bit of a sleeper that saw little success in lower courts but now fascinates conservative lawyers, is that Congress has exceeded its powers under the Spending Clause and violated federalism by tying too many strings to federal Medicaid funding and thereby "coercing" states into accepting federal policies. The idea is that Medicaid has grown so big and pervasive that any conditions attached to it constitute a kind of Godfather offer that the states simply cannot refuse. From a doctrinal standpoint, the claim is somewhere between unlikely and silly, which is why no federal law or program has ever been found to unconstitutionally coerce the states under the Spending Clause . Experts in the ABA poll mentioned above predict that this outlandish argument will be rejected in an 8-1 split. A decision to strike down the ACA on this basis would be a stunning development indeed. As with the Commerce Clause issue, a decision to strike down the Medicaid expansion as unconstitutionally coercive would be recognized instantly as an exercise of political will rather than legal judgment.

Of course, should the Court uphold the ACA, as expected by most lawyers, that should not distract anyone from the damage it is doing in other ways, from the constitutional glorification of corporate political power to the continuing erosion of public health, environmental and workplace standards.

Immigration Law: the Arizona Case: Arizona v. United States addresses Arizona's efforts to develop and enforce an immigration law all its own. The statute in question provides law enforcement officers with the power to arrest someone without a warrant based on probable cause to believe that the person committed a deportable act. It also makes it a criminal offense for an undocumented immigrant to apply for a job without valid immigration papers. This presents a clear case of a law that is preempted by federal laws governing and defining U.S. immigration policy, which is committed by the Naturalization Clause of the Constitution to Congress. This case should offer no dilemma for conservatives on the Court, who almost always side with the Executive branch in preemption controversies relating to national security, police enforcement and immigration law. However, underlying all of the debate is legislation hostile to one of America's most scapegoated populations, the undocumented, and that political reality may change the legal calculus.

Attack on Labor Unions: From the repressive "labor injunctions" of the late-19th and early 20th-centuries to the Supreme Court's decisions undermining the right to organize during the New Deal, periods of judicial reaction have always included judicial assaults on the rights of labor to organize unions and fight for their interests. This period is no different, and the Supreme Court has given itself an opportunity, probably irresistible to the five conservative Justices, to take another whack at labor this Term. The case is Knox v. SEIU. It poses the question whether public sector unions must notify members of the union's political expenditures every time they happen so that employees who pay union agency fees to the union for purposes of collective bargaining only may demand a proportional rebate in advance for political expenditures. Or, alternatively, does it suffice to give an annual budgetary statement with notice of political expenditures and invite the "objectors" to seek a rebate at that point? The case, fairly frivolous on its face, but deadly serious in its political mission and reception on the Roberts Court, is obviously designed to further hobble unions and render them ineffectual political actors. The irony is that, through decisions like Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977) and Communication Workers of America v. Beck (1988), the Court has granted muscular rights and powers to dissenting union members that are totally undreamed-of when it comes to dissenting corporate shareholders. Company shareholders who object to corporate political expenditures have no right to a proportional rebate of their corporate shares, much less that they must be told of such corporate treasury political expenditures in advance. While defenders of the Court's decision in the Citizens United case love to observe that the decision opened the floodgates not just on corporate treasury money but on union treasury money too (as if the two were comparable!), they never follow through and make the obvious point that corporate shareholders should, therefore, enjoy the same rebate rights against "compelled speech" as union members presently enjoy. In any event, the war on unions continues and accelerates, with the Supreme Court poised again to undercut the political effectiveness of public sector labor unions, the last meaningful bulwark of labor solidarity in America.

The Surprising Early Return of College Affirmative Action to the Court:
In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Supreme Court has, surprisingly, decided to review its holding in Grutter v. Bollinger and explore dismantling what remains of affirmative action in the next Term. The 2003 Grutter decision preserved a soft form of affirmative action at the college and university level for young people who belong to racial and ethnic minority groups, but only for a period that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor suggested would be 25 years. Now, just nine years later, the ruling bloc is ominously poised to wipe out affirmative action entirely, a prospect we must judge a rather likely prospect given the Court's express loathing of progressive race-conscious measures and its brazen disregard for the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, whose framers clearly contemplated such measures. Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts insist that the Equal Protection Clause compels government to be "color-blind" even if seeks to remedy the effects of historical and continuing racism. This rhetorical gloss is a fundamental distortion of the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, whose framers clearly championed race-conscious measures, like the Freedmen's Bureau, to assist the historical victims of racism. The current project of using the Equal Protection Clause against racial and ethnic minorities seeks to deny any relationship between historical and present-day discrimination and continuing inequalities of opportunity.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court is, of course, still a court, no matter how much certain Justices behave like partisans. Yet, the Court's ideological politics are in full swing these days as the 5-4 conservative majority fleshes out one-sided doctrines in areas from corporate political rights to corporate commercial speech rights to affirmative action to Congressional power to union rights. This is a Court that almost always chooses corporate power over democratic politics and popular freedoms. In a Court of logic and precedent, a Court without aversion to the channels of popular democracy, the challenge to Obamacare would be a total non-starter. But here we are again, waiting to see whether the Court will follow the path of justice or the path of power.

Jamin Raskin is an American University Law Professor, Maryland State Senator and People For the American Way Senior Fellow.

PFAW

Religious Right Activists Blame Idolatry for Labor Protests in Wisconsin

Today on Truth that Transforms, John Rabe of Truth in Action Ministries and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission agreed that idolatry and the worship of government is to blame for the recent protests and recall movement in Wisconsin over Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s push to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of public workers, calling it a “theological issue.” Rabe said that the Wisconsinites who have rallied against Walker’s move are people who have made government “a replacement for God” and even went on to claim that government employees shouldn’t look to government to provide for them.

Rabe: It does seem that there is a theological issue at stake here as well. When we are trained to look to government to supply our every need, it is very tempting for that government to become a replacement for God in our lives. You know, we tend to worship our idols and I think we’ve seen from the uprisings in places like Greece and frankly even in the United States in the Wisconsin state capitol last year, what happens when that god stops providing.

Land: That’s right, that’s exactly right.

PFAW Celebrates Victory of Wisconsin Voters Over Corporate Special Interests

Wisconsin voters yesterday ousted two right-wing state senators who had provided critical support for Gov. Scott Walker's devastating economic agenda.

After 2 big wins, what now? We keep fighting!

In the Wisconsin elections last night, Republicans barely held on to their majority by cashing in on their massive corporate support in the post-Citizens United era. But we changed the game and seized momentum heading into the next battles.

The Wisconsin Six: The Backbone of Scott Walker's Extreme Agenda

It's election day in Wisconsin! Read PFAW's report to find out information on the right-wing Republican senators up for recall today.

Attend a Rally to Save the American Dream this Saturday!

Events have been organized in cities and state capitols across the nation to show solidarity with workers in Wisconsin. Find the event or events nearest you.

PFAW Stands With Wisconsin's Public Workers

Thousands of public employees in Wisconsin are protesting this week in response to Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to strip public employee unions in the state of their collective bargaining rights and to reduce benefits to public workers.

People For the American Way Congratulates Dolores Huerta on Attacks from Glenn Beck

PFAW today offered its warmest congratulations to civil rights leader and PFAW Board Member Dolores Huerta after she was attacked by television host Glenn Beck. Huerta was singled out for her work protecting undocumented workers from exploitation by employers.
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