USW: Friedrichs Court Case Threatens Workers' Wages

Jan 08, 2016, 12:32 ET from United Steelworkers (USW)

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The United Steelworkers (USW) union today expressed concern that the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, to be argued Monday before the U.S. Supreme Court, has the potential to make economic conditions even more dire for working Americans and their families.

"This lawsuit is yet another in a series of attacks on workers and labor unions by the wealthiest 1 percent and the organizations that attempt to carry out their wage-suppression agenda," said USW International President Leo W. Gerard.

"If not for collective bargaining, workers in both the public and the private sectors would be completely at the mercy of their employers for whatever paltry wages and benefits the boss decides to bestow," said Gerard. "We call that individual begging."

The ruling in the Friedrichs case could potentially overturn a nearly 40-year-old unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court called Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. It has allowed public-sector unions to collect fair share fees from workers who exercise their right not to join but who the union is required by law to represent in collective bargaining anyway. The fees go toward the cost of bargaining and administering the agreement.

"When unions fight for higher salaries and better benefits, those gains go to every worker. It only makes sense that every worker should pay their fair share toward gaining those benefits," Gerard said.

"For decades, Americans have been working harder and producing more than ever, but their pay has remained stagnant. In the private sector, USW members have suffered because of a flood of unfairly traded imports. In the public sector, workers have faced relentless political attacks. And the result is the same for both: The richest Americans are taking home an increasingly larger share of the economic pie," Gerard said.

Under the 1977 Abood ruling, workers who choose not to join the union at their workplace are required to pay fees to cover only the cost of collective bargaining and administration, not political activity. However, the plaintiffs in the Friedrichs case have argued that all public-sector union activity, including contract bargaining and workplace grievance settlement, is political and workers who choose not to join the labor organization should be exempt from those costs.

"These non-members don't object to the higher wages and benefits they enjoy as a result of collective bargaining; they just want to free load instead of paying their fair share of the costs," said USW International Vice President Fred Redmond. "This case is not about political activity.  It is about union-busting, about making it harder for workers to join together, to speak up for each other, and to make life better for themselves and their families."

"We are losing the middle class in this country, and if this case goes the way the 1 percent wants, it will hasten that demise," Gerard said. "It would push us back to a time when workers had no protections and were completely at the mercy of their wealthy, powerful bosses. This would be a terrible regression, not progress."

The USW is the largest industrial union in North America, representing workers in a range of industries including metals, mining, rubber, paper and forestry, oil refining, health care, security, hotels, and municipal governments.

Roxanne Brown, (202) 778-3304

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SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)