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The U.S. Supreme Court will hear argument today in a case that has some labor activists fearful that decades-long protection under the law may come to an end at the hands of the conservative court.

The case, Harris v. Quinn, brought by home healthcare aids who do not want to join a union and do not want to pay any amount for the union’s contract negotiation efforts, involves the issue of “fair share” fees.

As explained by Lyle Denniston in this detailed analysis of the case:

When a union is named as the bargaining agent for a group of workers, it is under a legal duty to represent all the workers, including those who refuse to join.  Under what is called the “agency shop” theory, all workers are not required to join the union, but they are required to pay through their dues a “fair share” of the union’s costs in representing them in bargaining over benefits and working conditions.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, on appeal from the Seventh Circuit, over objections from unions and from state and federal government officials — raising the specter that the high court might be veering towards upsetting established labor law.

As NPR’s Nina Totenberg notes here:

In the end, what makes this case remarkable is that the Supreme Court for decades has allowed public employee unions, and has allowed them to require mandatory fair share fees for non-members as long as those who do not join the union are not forced to pay for union political activities.

But the current conservative court has not been enamored with labor unions, hinting just two years ago that it might be time to revisit its decades of doctrine on this issue.

“If they say you can’t have an exclusive representative union, that would be a stake in the heart of not just unions in the public sector but all unions,” Smith says.

And if the court were to say unions could not have a mandatory fair share contribution to a recognized union, “you’d have a serious free rider problem,” he says, because people “would have no incentive to pay their share of the costs if they can free ride on everybody else.”

The bottom line, Smith says, is that an adverse ruling “would substantially weaken unions.”

As noted in board’s press release today:

The consolidated complaint involves more than 60 employees, 19 of whom were discharged allegedly as a result of their participation in activities protected by the National Labor Relations Act.  The Office of the General Counsel alleges that Walmart violated the Act when:

  • During two national television news broadcasts and in statements to employees at Walmart stores in California and Texas, Walmart unlawfully threatened employees with reprisal if they engaged in strikes and protests.
  • At stores in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington, Walmart unlawfully threatened, disciplined, and/or terminated employees for having engaged in legally protected strikes and protests.
  • At stores in California, Florida, Missouri and Texas, Walmart unlawfully threatened, surveilled, disciplined, and/or terminated employees in anticipation of or in response to employees’ other protected concerted activities.

More to follow.

 

Farmworkers 2In anticipation of your Thanksgiving feast tomorrow, consider sharing this essay about the people who made it possible:

Safer food, farmworkers and families
By Fawn Pattison, Executive Director, Toxic Free NC

As we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this week, many of us will say a prayer of thanks for the hardworking people who harvest our food. While we enjoy the harvest’s bounty, we also reflect on those who work hard in the fields, facing many dangers and often not earning enough to put food on the table themselves. That’s why Thanksgiving week is also designated as International Food Workers Week.

This week a coalition of farmworker supporters is launching a new campaign to keep farmworkers safe from one of the biggest hazards they face on the job: exposure to toxic pesticides.

Check out http://protectfarmworkers.org/ and add your name to the petition calling on the federal government to fix the outdated pesticide rules that are failing to keep workers – and us – safe from exposure on the job. Read More

Mental health workersMembers of UE local 150, the NC Public Service Workers Union, will be holding a demonstration this morning at 10:00 am at NC DHHS headquarters on the old Dorothea Dix Hospital campus at 101 Blair Drive, Raleigh. Workers are demanding that Sec. Aldona Wos meet with the union, extend Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and also grant workers “Safety, Rights and Raises”, which has become the slogan of their current campaign. Senator Don Davis along with Rev. Curtis Gatewood from the N.C. NAACP and Moral Monday movement plan to speak at the rally. UE 150 is inviting the public and all supporters to attend.

Organizer Dante Strobino explains the genesis of the event and some of the indignities visited upon state mental health workers in the following essay.

State mental health workers launch campaign for Safety, Rights and Raises
By Dante Strobino

Jessica Brandon, a mother of three whose 40-year-old husband has had four heart attacks, is the sole wage earner in her family. For the past 5 ½ years she has worked as a healthcare technician at Central Regional Hospital in Butner, North Carolina, one of three state psychiatric hospitals. After paying essential bills for the family, Brandon said, she typically has less than $40 left for the month. Read More

School lunchesToday’s lunch links theme is: “Important subjects you can’t believe you didn’t already more about.”

Subject #1 is the the latest worrisome scoop on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. For those of you who didn’t make our September Crucial Conversation on the topic, the TPP is a secretly-negotiated trade deal to empower large corporations that many think will be much worse than NAFTA for the American public. Now, today, to continue the good news, the folks at WikiLeaks have released the secret text for the Intellectual Property Rights Chapter of the proposed treaty and spelled out numerous concerns about human rights that it may pose.

Subject #2 is a little less momentous, but might well impact the lives of folks you know in the near term; it concerns the already well-down-the-road plans to completely overhaul the venerable GED test. As the NC Justice Center’s Sabine Schoenbach reports this morning in this new policy brief, the changes will be significant — a new format, new computerization and higher fees to name three — and could leave a lot of North Carolinians behind absent thoughtful action.

Subject #3 is one you probably could’ve guessed at, but about which it’s still good to be reminded — namely, the amazing mythology about the supposed benefits of the conservative “education reform” agenda. Read More