Unions must join forces to defeat anti-labor lawsuit before US Supreme Court

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Public sector unions face a threat to their existence from a case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court sometime in early 2016. As the day of decision approaches, union leaders seem to be resigned to watching the wrecking ball headed their way. However, rank-and-filers don’t care for this defeatist approach, and they are beginning to push their unions to launch a fight by organizing a national march on the Supreme Court.

The case is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA), and it was brought by right-wing anti-union groups. The plaintiffs aim to end all requirements that public employees pay fees for union representation, regardless of whether or not they are union members.

Because unions must represent everyone in a given bargaining unit, this would be unfair, along with putting an incredible strain on union resources. It would impose a right-to-work regime on all public workers nationally.

Top public union officials, who rely on legalistic methods, don’t want to stand up to the system’s highest judicial body. And, with the presidential election coming up, they are loath to embarrass Democrats by pushing them to defend the labor movement.

So, instead of tackling the serious threat head-on, they are attempting to get workers more invested in their unions through strategies like interviewing their members about what they want from the union — as the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is doing.

Just saying NO to passivity. Bay Area Freedom Socialist Party activist Nancy Reiko Kato found her fellow AFSCME members at a July statewide conference ready for action against the Friedrichs lawsuit. Says Kato, “We were told we were going to lose, so I stood up and said we needed to fight. The room exploded with applause.”

Kato and several of her coworkers then drafted and passed a resolution at their AFSCME 3299 chapter that calls on their national union to work with the AFL-CIO to organize massive marches in Washington, D.C., and on the West Coast.

The resolution links the battle against Friedrichs v. CTA to the struggle to defend vital public services, thereby laying the groundwork for a united front of unions, labor councils, and community groups representing folks who need those services. And it cautions against relying on Democrats.

The resolution is headed to statewide AFSCME 3299, which represents 20,000 service and patient care workers in the University of California system. In October it spread north to Washington state, where it was adopted by the convention of AFSCME Council 28, the 40,000 member union for state workers.

Turning up the heat. Now is the time to pressure national unions to mobilize. Passing the resolution in more local and statewide unions, and labor councils, is the next step. (Click here to download a copy of the resolution.)

It will also be crucial to build cross-union caucuses intent on instilling democracy and a fighting spirit in labor.

And those caucuses can reach out to community organizers to start building a double-barrel movement to defend unions and services. Readers interested in this organizing can contact sister Kato at nrkato@rocketmail.com or the author at stevhoff@earthlink.net.

This is war and the stakes are high. Fortunately, public employees, who are a workforce largely made up of women and people of color, are a scrappy bunch who care deeply about the services they provide and will fight like hell to defend them.

Steve Hoffman is a shop steward for AFSCME Local 304. Send him feedback at stevhoff@earthlink.net.

Also see:

Business interests foil Worker Bill of Rights

Voters in Tacoma, Wash., pass $12 minimum wage

Labor Weather Report

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