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Corporations Hope Court That Gave Them Speech in 2012 Will Rob Unions' Power Next Week

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Co-authored with Rev. John Welch, Gamaliel Board Chair

We wanted to share news about this upcoming Supreme Court decision -- if you are so moved to send a version of this letter to the editor of your own, you can do that here.

For our allies in the labor movement, next week is a crucial time as the Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision affecting nothing less than the right to collective bargaining in the U.S.

Anti-union politics behind the Harris vs. Quinn decision may be just as dangerous as the pro-corporate speech politics that led to the Citizens United decision in 2012.

With Citizens United, corporations got the right to make larger political contributions. Now conservative organizations are threatening the right to collective bargaining in this country.

According to oyez.org, Pamela J. Harris is a personal care assistant who provides in-home care administered by a division of the Illinois Department of Human Services.

Harris sued Illinois in 2010 because she was required to pay dues to the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Workers, which negotiated salary and benefits for the state's home-care workers. In what is known as a "fair share" provision, all state home-care workers benefited from SEIU negotiations and were required to pay union dues as their share of expenses for being represented--since they received their share of the benefits.

The fee applies to all workers represented by and garnering benefits of the union, including those who opted not to join the union (as was the case for Harris), according to Alliance for Justice.

Her lawsuit seems grossly unfair, considering SEIU just secured a huge raise for these workers, an increase from $7 per hour to $11.65. They also got increased benefits, including health care.

Harris is represented by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Inc. Whatever her personal motivations may be in the case, her attorneys have aimed at nothing less than ending the fair share provision. It's part of the larger, long-term pattern, of picking apart the power of everyone who does not subscribe to a corporate agenda.

It certainly does not make economic sense. A few months of working at their new salary level more than pays for their union dues, without even taking a look at how many thousands of dollars a year they can potentially save on health costs, now that they have better health insurance.

It also does not make political sense. In America we run our country according to democratic principles. The union is democratically elected, just like candidates for public office. Yet that's something ultra-conservatives, whether at the National Right to Work foundation or in the Tea Party, just don't seem to accept. They value individual freedom--even if it is freedom at the expense of the greater good for others--above all.

This lawsuit only makes sense as a means of curbing the power of unions, which in essence takes away the voice of the middle class and those living in poverty.

In Pittsburgh we have been fighting the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) for months alongside workers who have demanded a right to unionize and to work in an environment void of intimidation. Many of the hundreds workers we have been organizing with over the last year haven't seen a raise or been able to take time off for a family vacation in years.

The work the union is doing is lifting wages and benefits for all the workers. We should applaud those efforts, not derail them.