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The Right’s Boon in Knox v. SEIU

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Posted on Feb 10, 2012
Steve Rhodes (CC-BY)

By Bill Blum

(Page 2)

The Supreme Court’s justification for the asymmetrical treatment is both cynical and longstanding, dating back to the 1970s. As most recently articulated by Justice Antonin Scalia in a labor law case decided in 2007 (Davenport v. Washington Education Association), the dues collected from union members are seen as compulsory and therefore coerced, thus warranting opt-out protections for dissenting workers like those involved in Knox. Shareholder investments, by contrast, are seen as purely voluntary. If an investor doesn’t like the way Exxon spends its money on politics, he or she can always switch their portfolios to Google.

The strategic importance of this distinction has not been lost on the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which represents the plaintiffs in Knox, or by the ultra-right Pacific Legal Foundation and the Cato Institute, which have filed amicus (friend of the court) briefs in support of the plaintiffs, or by right-wing activists and bloggers. As a recent column featured on Andrew Breitbart’s “Big Government” website reasoned, an expansive ruling in Knox “could deny the right of public sector unions to automatically deduct dues from paychecks under any circumstance.”

And that’s exactly the end game—the death of public unions and with them their political action war chests that are the lifeline of the Democratic Party and progressive causes everywhere. From Indiana to Arizona, the right is targeting public employees. Proposed legislation in some states, such as Wisconsin, would outlaw public-sector collective bargaining over wages. In others, including Arizona, there are proposals to prohibit government bodies from engaging in any kind of collective bargaining whatsoever with public employee unions.

The right also knows that if any legal challenges to the new laws find their way to the Roberts Supreme Court, they will reach a friendly forum that in 2009 upheld an Idaho law banning payroll deductions for union political activities (Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Assn.). Given the court’s well- established record of conservative judicial activism, it would be only a small legal hop, step and jump to a ruling upholding a ban on all payroll dues deductions.

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So while the political left correctly turns its attention to how the Roberts court resolves Obamacare and other headline cases, it would do well to consider Knox, the little stealth case that threatens to play a big role reshaping our political landscape in favor of the corporate elite for generations to come.


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By kookiecat, February 12, 2012 at 3:21 pm Link to this comment

I guess the takeaway from this piece is that we need public financing of
campaigns. But in the meantime, we also need to ensure that unions don’t have to
play with one hand tied behind their backs. Also, the title of this piece isn’t very
good. The issue is about more than SEIU.

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By NABNYC, February 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm Link to this comment

I agree that all working people should understand that only by uniting, acting together, forming groups and engaging in mass actions to support their demands, do they have any chance ever of standing up to the international criminal financial cartels.

I’m reminded of people who, every time an election grows near, tell me that I “must” support the Democrats, and I always ask when are the Democrats going to start supporting me.

The same is true for unions.  Of course we need unions, but not the ones that exist today.  I see very little in most of the unions to inspire confidence.  What exactly have they done to fight on behalf of working people, other than concede again and again, such as to caps on insurance benefits, two-tiered wage systems.  Everything that will ensure the end of the union, but protect their own fat salaries and pensions of those who are older white men and who primarily have benefited from unions.

Go ask the carpenters’ unions about their policies of excluding women and non-whites.  Then ask them who stood beside them when the nation was flooded with unauthorized migrants who took all the carpenter’s jobs and were used to crush wages down from $25/hour to $8/hour.  Excluding such huge segments of the nation as women and non-whites has left these formerly all-white all-male unions powerless and left their members unemployed.  They did it to themselves.  I’m not talking about mafia ties.  I’m talking about the exclusion of the majority of working people in this country.

It is a lot like the Democratic party.  Yes, they used to represent working people, unions, women, non-whites, the poor, the disabled, seniors, the segments of our society with the least power and least money.  All that changed under the terribly corrupt influences of Bill Clinton, Rahm Emanuel, and Bob Rubin, who worked together to turn the democratic party into the “other” Wall Street party.  They don’t represent us anymore.  You couldn’t get a democratic politician to say the words “working people” for a million dollars.  They only talk about representing the “middle class.”  You know why?  Because “middle class” is code for white suburban males, and everybody knows it. 

Same for unions.  Yes, they used to represent working people and were a progressive force.  Some still are, but many are not.  Instead of glorifying “unions” as a category, we should set about creating new unions, perhaps One Big Union, to represent all working people who earn under $80,000/year, or whatever cut-off is chosen.  We create the union, we run it, we decide policy, and we begin to tell the politicians what to do.  Starting with getting private attorneys to bust up every anti-trust monopoly violating corporations in the country including WalMart and every firm on Wall Street, every bank, most of the drug stores and grocery store chains.  Bust them up, destroy their united power, while creating our own.

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By Ralph Kramden, February 11, 2012 at 11:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A worker who is anti-union is like a deer who joins the NRA. Who gave you the 8-hour day, week-ends, overtime pay, holiday pay, sick pay, unemployment compensation, vacation pay, disability insurance? You think the Cato institute, the Koch bros. and Joseph Coors? This supreme court is not only corrupt but openly hates the working class. If ever we needed proof that Marx was right “government is the executive committe of the ruling class,” this government is a prime example. Lets repeal Taft Hartley and impeach at least Scalia and Thomas.

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By Kugel, February 11, 2012 at 10:57 am Link to this comment

Blum misses the point.  It becomes clearer and clearer that we need to get all
money out of politics.

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By ardee, February 11, 2012 at 9:53 am Link to this comment

The real strength of this nation lies with its working men and women. Unfortunately we forget that fact.

I have been, in my varied careers, a member of several unions, SEIU, Teamsters and ,currently, IBEW. I have seen a trending towards complicity with management as the salaries of the top union officials approached that of the corporate bosses with which they negotiated. I think that union management has lost its way and its idealism.

Recently, after months of negotiations between my company ( a major public utility) and my union, the new company CEO walked into the meeting, dumped a proposal on the desk, claimed it to be the final offer, and walked out. The union, instead of taking a firm position on this bullying tactic, knuckled under and now supports the contract proposals, many of which are a step backwards.

The vote is now under way as to whether or not to accept this contract. Odds are the rank and file will reject it, but I have no certain knowledge thereof, we are 21,000 workers after all. This, in microcosm, is the current reality of life in the United States, a slow regression from all the rights workers have won over the decades.

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By Leefeller, February 11, 2012 at 9:41 am Link to this comment

Labor is taking it in the shorts, collective bargaining is the only thing keeping workers above water, sure just like corruption in politics opportunists have graced the unions.

Several years back, my experience with SEIU was just as NABNYC commented, our local union was very progressive and kicking managements asses on issues of work place abuses and violations, at our last local meeting, stereotypical cigar smoking union bosses of the Union walked right into our local meeting and dissolved our militant local right there, probably because we were costing them money and getting things done, never gave a reason.  I also suspected they were working with management?

Some Unions like the Steel Workers Union appear to be attempting to keep jobs here and fight out sourcing, which is not an SEIU issue, lets face it service workers are like white collar workers, they seem less inclined to be involved in labor issues compared to a blue collar worker, though I guess right to work states prove my theory wrong? Since the dawn of the first Union, management has been fighting to destroy collective workers right to bargain.  Apparently the GOP is in the 1 percents pockets, while the Democrats seem less and less supportive of the 99 percent, some appear to be in someones pockets besides labors!

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By Big B, February 11, 2012 at 7:22 am Link to this comment

When will the timeless old bullshit argument that corruption led to the downfall of unions end? And the myth that they still somehow weild political power in the new corporate age is laughable at best.

The fact is that since the late 1960’s there has been a concentrated and well organized effort on the behalf of corporate america and the top 1% to disempower unions, thus eliminating all political gains made by the working class in the US since the great depression.

Take a look at your paychecks, your medical benefiits and your retirement plan. that strategy seems to be working like a charm.

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oddsox's avatar

By oddsox, February 11, 2012 at 4:30 am Link to this comment

Political contributions should be allowed from individuals only. 
Legal US citizens with full disclosure.
No corporations.
No unions.
No PACs.

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By kookiecat, February 10, 2012 at 10:17 pm Link to this comment

Again Bill Blum elucidates some of the important cases coming before the
Supreme Court.  It is clear that after Citizens United the political terrain has shifted
against progressives.  There has been a systematic attempt to destroy unions. 
Whether or not you like this particular union that attempt must be defeated.

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By NABNYC, February 10, 2012 at 8:03 pm Link to this comment

Most of the problems faced by unions are the result of their own corruption, and alliances with big business against American working people.  I know Andy Stern got himself a very good job after he beefed up the SEIU membership and got them to campaign for democrats.  But what exactly did he get for American working people?  In too many instances, the SEIU is more aligned with business than with workers.  I have often wondered if they were a management union, or at least one that is run completely by the democratic party.  Exactly what did the SEIU get for the millions contributed to Obama?  They couldn’t even get a card-check law passed to make it easier to organize. 

Decades ago, I had women friends trying to get into traditionally-male unions, and they found all the doors slammed in their faces.  When American workers across the country were being fired and replaced with unauthorized migrants, who stood up for the Americans?  Not the SEIU.  They waited until all the Americans had been fired from $14/hour jobs and replaced with unauthorized migrants at $6/hour, then rushed in to “organize” the new workers, promising them $7/hour.  They organize, management is happy because they’re paying half what they used to.  Andy Stern and the other insiders are happy with their generous six-figure salaries.  The unauthorized migrants are happy to have a job, even though it’s an American’s job, and the American is now unemployed.

We’ve seen the SEIU attack other legitimate unions, specifically the California nurses, and oppose a state-wide health insurance proposal, siding with Governor Schwarzenegger and undermining the other unions.  What did Andy Stern get from all that?  I assume he got something.  The SEIU has had a long and contentious dispute with another healthcare union in Oakland, and tried to undermine yet another union in Puerto Rico. 

With unions like this, I say we should start over again.  Create unions for American working people, unions that do not work for the politicians or for businesses, but work for American working people.  I really don’t care if the SEIU disappears.  I don’t see that they do anything for anybody except a small group of overpaid insiders.

As far as the other unions go, where have they been since 1970?  Sitting on their cushy fat bank accounts and fat asses, investing in stocks and real estate, and doing nothing to either organize or help American working people.  They’re useless and corrupt.  Obama “saved” the auto industry?  Really.  I thought he just used taxpayer money to help them move their factories to Brazil.  And what did the union do to stop it?  Nothing.

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