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Silencing the Unions

January 11th, 2016

The conservatives on the Supreme Court are finally taking a whack at finishing off unions. Were they only supportive of Republican causes, they’d be safe, but as general supporters of liberal politicians, they remain a target to be destroyed, as they have been since the 1980’s.

The court will hear a case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in which a group of school teachers object to paying union dues on the grounds that those dues will be used to support political causes they oppose. Naturally, the Wall Street Journal (behind paywall; open article can be accessed via Google News link) is positively gushing over the prospect of shutting down labor’s political speech:

Defending free speech has been a notable strength of the current Supreme Court, and on Monday the Justices hear a case that gives them a rare and splendid opportunity to repair damage to the First Amendment done by the Court itself.

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, 10 public school teachers object to a California law that forces them to pay union fees that finance causes they oppose. For 39 years the Court has allowed such coercion thanks to an anomalous 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. Now is the time to overturn it.

If the court finds in favor of the teachers, it would effectively silence unions politically, leaving their counterparts—corporations—with virtually unchallenged voices in politics, heavily favoring the wealthy and removing what little collective voice remains for the working-class citizen.

The Journal cites Harris v. Quinn, a case that said that “no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support.” Of course, they ignore religious organizations using public funds to both proselytize and to make political statements. And they ignore lawmakers using public funds to force their own religious views on laws. That’s okay.

And naturally, there is no case the Supreme Court will hear which allows objections of individual stockholders to silence the corporate executives who spend corporate cash on political donations and messages that the shareholders oppose. No problems there.

The Journal also ignores the 2006 decision, Garcetti v. Ceballos, which specifically stated that employers may control the free-speech rights of individual workers:

When a citizen enters government service, the citizen by necessity must accept certain limitations on his or her freedom. … Government employers, like private employers, need a significant degree of control over their employees’ words and actions; without it, there would be little chance for the efficient provision of public services.

Of course, the conservative side of the court has never allowed itself to be hobbled by little details like consistency. However, the above was written by Kennedy, who could make one of his pivotal stances against the hard-right four, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts.

Only time will tell, but I am not overly hopeful: the court has shown great love of corporate power, and little love for anything that opposes it.

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  1. Troy
    January 11th, 2016 at 23:55 | #1

    “they ignore religious organizations using public funds to both proselytize and to make political statements”

    ? Don’t understand that . . . they use their *own* funds, yes?

    The issue as framed in the conservative mindset is simply one of free association. Joining a church or corporation is entirely voluntary, joining a labor union is (often) not.

    Expect another 5-4 decision breaking the california teachers union. Triple win, the GOP gets to f— with unions, California, and also empower the religious right in California’s schools.

    Makes me all that much more likely to come back to Japan this decade or next!

    Speaking of which, I discovered tenso.com, which looks to be a decent package forwarding service in Tokyo, taking the place of friends who would occasionally do this for me.

    Pretty crazy having the entirety (almost) of amazon.co.jp and rakuten at my command; I didn’t even have that when I was living in Japan in the 1990s — I was able to order some books from amazon.com in the late 90s, that’s about it.

    Problem is airmail costs are a function of both space and weight. Can’t ship bulky things like


    all that economically (sea-mail doubles the price to $6/bag) and heavy things are right out since even sea-mail rates are by the kg.

  2. Luis
    January 12th, 2016 at 00:51 | #2

    Don’t understand that . . . they use their *own* funds, yes?
    Actually, they use public funds in two ways. Many of the “faith-based initiatives” funnel government funds to these institutions; in addition, they are tax-exempt, meaning that the taxpayers are also picking up that bill, worth billions, and yet they play politics and proselytize.
    Joining a church or corporation is entirely voluntary, joining a labor union is (often) not.
    That is not true for churches using taxpayer funds—the taxpayer is not voluntary. One could argue that it is true for stockholders, however, but only to a degree. Owning stock is voluntary, but it could also be argued that to ask a shareholder to sell stock as the only alternative to the corporation spending the common wealth for political purposes against the wish of the shareholder is similar to asking someone to quit the profession if they don’t like how the union spends the funds.

    But like I said, they don’t give a crap. The conservative wing will decide not based upon their prior rulings, nor upon the actual law, but instead upon what they want, and that alone. Scalia and has cohorts pretty much just make it all up after that.

  3. Troy
    January 12th, 2016 at 12:03 | #3

    Oh, I agree with the last point of course. Finding the individual right to self-defense in the 2nd Amendment was cute. It was like they were using the legal machinery the liberals had been using (“penumbrae”) to do their own little law-making.

    And of course deciding continuing the 2000 FL recount of the urban voting machines violated the “equal protection rights” of the rural voters with their more modern and reliable voting machines. Nice little twist of the shiv there.

    btw, if you need notebooks:


    is a good deal : )

    I’m in a real “Somebody Stop Me!” mode with amazon.co.jp right now, LOL


    mmm. I already bought 2 cases (20 packs each) of XYLITOL gum. I love that stuff — I can get the 140g bottle of it for like $15 in Japanese food stores in the Bay Area, but via amazon.co.jp it’s ¥2566 for a case of 20 (= 3 bottles) and adding another 420g to the shipment costs ¥800, so I’m getting the case for under $30 (¥3366/117.3) which is a $15 savings over buying 3 bottles at the Nijiya in Mt View.

  4. Tim Kane
    January 20th, 2016 at 09:49 | #4

    If I own stock in a corporation, and that corporation wants to make a contribution, say to Ted Cruz, and I object, by the courts logic, shouldn’t that mean the corporation can’t be allowed make that contribution?

    If stockholders have an interest in promoting Ted Cruz’s candidacy, they can do that as individuals.

    A corporation, like a union, is a collective. It’s an ownership collective. On top of that, corporations are given a considerable concessions by the socieity/state: limited immunity. For that privilege should come added social burdens – meaning society should be able to make impositions on corporations.

    One thing that this court has done is protect the interest of corporations which is an agency for the rich. Meanhwile they’ve been prepared to undermine unions which is an agency for the working class. This is a classic fascist ambition. Fascism is the merger of corporate and state power – Mussolini paraphrased from memory.

  5. Tim Kane
    January 20th, 2016 at 09:54 | #5

    As a follow up, if my logic holds true, that is: what’s good for collective labor associations is good for collective ownership associations, then limiting the political involvement of unions might then end up being a good thing, because it would limit political involvement of corporations, in effect reversing Citizens United.

    I would hope that one of the lawyers arguing the case for the Teacher’s Union side of things, might bring this up.

    I suspect that the Fascist side of the court is petrified by any kind of limitation on the power of corporations.

    Corporations are 80% owned by the rich, so they are the primary agency of the rich for advancing their bargaining power in society.

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