Pooja Bhatia - July 14, 2014
After decades of losing members, legislative defeats and a declining return on labor, American unions have stopped looking within for the answer.
Now they’re looking to you.
Once focused mostly on the narrow goals of its members, unions of late have sought to spark broader civic movements. Big unions like the SEIU are funding groups like OUR Walmart and Fight for 15, which advocate for workers’ rights — though not many Wal-Mart or fast-food workers seem to show up at their demonstrations. Others are taking workers’ battles up the supply chain — in some cases, all the way to Wall Street, whose banks they accuse of charging employers predatory fees. And some unions have found creative ways to enlist parents and citizens in their battles, so that when contract negotiations roll around, they’re armed with reinforcements and can’t be easily labeled as greedy.
Call these methods hacks, call them alt-labor, call them workarounds: They all aim at getting labor out of the corner that it says it’s been painted into for the past 40 years.
By most accounts, organized labor in the United States has been on the outs for decades. Last week’s Supreme Court decision, Harris v. Quinn, chipped away at a cornerstone of union operations — agency fees — and though the decision was narrow, the Court signaled it’d take a wrecking ball to the whole edifice if given the chance. Many in the labor movement had been preparing for worse.
BY SAM HANANEL
June 30, 2014
WASHINGTON (AP)—The Supreme Court dealt a blow to public sector unions Monday, ruling that thousands of home health care workers in Illinois cannot be required to pay fees that help cover a union’s costs of collective bargaining.
In a 5-4 split along ideological lines, the justices said the practice violates the First Amendment rights of nonmembers who disagree with the positions that unions take.
The ruling is a setback for labor unions that have bolstered their ranks and their bank accounts in Illinois and other states by signing up hundreds of thousands of in-home care workers. It could lead to an exodus of members who will have little incentive to pay dues if nonmembers don’t have to share the burden of union costs.
But the ruling was limited to “partial-public employees” and stopped short of overturning decades of practice that has generally allowed public sector unions of teachers, firefighters and other government workers to pass through their representation costs to nonmembers.
Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said home care workers “are different from full-fledged public employees” because they work primarily for their disabled or elderly customers and do not have most of the rights and benefits of state employees. The ruling does not affect private sector workers.