SCOTUS Puts American Dream in Jeopardy with Friedrichs

By Rachel Johnson

The US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) announced this morning that it would hear a case that has the potential to adversely affect millions of American workers. The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association will challenge existing precedent and would allow people to have the benefits of a union contract without paying an “agency fee” or “fair share” fee. These fees cover the costs of bargaining workers’ contracts with employers and are typically less than full union membership dues.  This system is covered by legal precedent dating back to the 1970’s when the Supreme Court heard Abood v. Board of Education and determined that fair share fees are legal and just.

The Friedrichs case is likely to be heard as early as the end of this year. After the news broke this morning, unions were quick to denounce the decision. In a strong showing of solidarity, National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen García, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, California Teachers Association President (CTA) Eric C. Heins, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Lee Saunders, and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Mary Kay Henry issued the following joint statement today in response:  

“We are disappointed that at a time when big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance, the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America—that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a decent life.  

The Supreme Court is revisiting decisions that have made it possible for people to stick together for a voice at work and in their communities—decisions that have stood for more than 35 years—and that have allowed people to work together for better public services and vibrant communities. 

When people come together in a union, they can help make sure that our communities have jobs that support our families. It means teachers can stand up for their students. First responders can push for critical equipment to protect us. And social workers can advocate effectively for children’s safety.

America can’t build a strong future if people can’t come together to improve their work and their families’ futures. Moms and dads across the country have been standing up in the thousands to call for higher wages and unions. We hope the Supreme Court heeds their voices.”

Workers who are members of unions have also spoken out against the SCOTUS decision to hear a case that would undermine their ability to provide vital services the public depends on.

In their own words:

“As a school campus monitor, my job is to be on the front lines to make sure our students are safe. Both parents and students count on me—it’s a responsibility that I take very seriously. It’s important for me to have the right to voice concerns over anything that might impede the safety of my students, and jeopardizing my ability to speak up for them is a risk for everyone.”

—Carol Peek, a school campus security guard from Ventura, Calif.

“I love my students, and I want them to have everything they need to get a high-quality public education. When educators come together, we can speak with the district about class size, about adequate staffing, about the need for counselors, nurses, media specialists and librarians in schools. And we can advocate for better practices that serve our kids. With that collective voice, we can have conversations with the district that we probably wouldn’t be able to have otherwise―and do it while engaging our communities, our parents and our students.”

—Kimberly Colbert, a classroom teacher from St. Paul, Minn.

“As a mental health worker, my colleagues and I see clients who are getting younger and more physical. Every day we do our best work to serve them and keep them safe, but the risk of injury and attack is a sad, scary reality of the job. But if my coworkers and I come together and have a collective voice on the job, we can advocate for better patient care, better training and equipment, and safe staffing levels. This is about all of us. We all deserve safety and dignity on the job, because we work incredibly hard every day and it’s certainly not glamorous.”

—Kelly Druskis-Abreu, a mental health worker from Worcester, Mass.

“Our number one job is to protect at-risk children. Working together, front-line social workers and investigators have raised standards and improved policies that keep kids safe from abuse and neglect. I can't understand why the Supreme Court would consider a case that could make it harder for us to advocate for the children and families we serve—this work is just too important.”

—Ethel Everett, a child protection worker from Springfield, Mass.

To hear more from workers and their unions on this SCOTUS decision, you can follow the #VoiceForAll hashtag on Twitter