Yves here. Truth be told, I had no idea that Harris v. Quinn, a case challenging the legitimacy of public sector unions, was before the Supreme Court until I saw a note on a listserv.
Mainstream accounts of American history are almost completely devoid of the brutal efforts to suppress the organization of workers to gain basic rights, like workplace safety, fair wages, and limits on the length of the workday. Here are some examples of the ferocity of union-breaking efforts:
One of the first great strike waves of this country occured on the railways in 1877; in that strike, US federal troops repeatedly opened fire on strikers battling with the monopolistic railways, killing twelve people in Baltimore, killing twenty-five in Pittsburg, and using troops throughout the country to break the strike. Local police in Pittsburg had actually supported the strikers because public opinion so supported the
strike, but President Hayes made sure federal troops were used to defend the railroad monopolies.
In July of 1892, Carnegie Steel declared war on the Amalgamated union of iron, steel and tin workers as they went on strike. A private Pinkerton army marched against the union’s position armed with Winchester rifles–seven strikers died and three Pinkertons died from return fire…
Unions found that if they struck, the government would issue an injunction and members would be jailed; if they called for a boycott, they’d be bankrupted by the courts* or threatened with imprisonment. At the same time, attempts by unions to use legislation such as limits to the working day or minimum-wage laws were voided by the courts (until 1937 and the New Deal). Unions found that whether through the ballot, through a strike, or through
speech and boycotts–the employers and government would attack them.
In 1912, a massive strike in the wool mills of Lawrence, MA showed where employer violence overstepped its bounds and backfired. Despite the deployment of the militia and the arrest of strike leaders, the company could not break the strike. In order to survive economically, unionists planned to send their children to supporters in other states. The company and its supporters declared that no children would be allowed to leave the city. When the strike committee undertook to take the children to the railway station, the police and militia surrounded the station, the police closed in and began to beat mothers and children mericilessly. Despite the jailing of 296 strikers, public protest and continued resistance forced the company to raise wages although the union was never recognized.
Possibly the most bloody attack on unionists was Ludlow, Colorado in 1913 where J.D. Rockefeller and his Colorado Fuel and Iron Company had state militia and hired special deputies attack and try to crush coal miners there. Conflict ranged for months until the
militia opened machine-fire on a tent city of mineworkers family and then soaked tents in oil and put them to the torch. Women and children huddled in pits to escape the falmes; in one, eleven children and two women were found burned to death at the hands of the militia.
This list does not include beating and murders of union leaders and prominent members.
It is fair to point out that the American labor union has since become ineffective and has allowed itself to be used and abused by the Democratic party. Union leaders have failed to operate strategically and too many are corrupt. Now that private sector unions are a husk of their former selves, public sector unions have become the last bastion of worker protection, and they may suffer a fatal blow via Harris v. Quinn on Monday.
At 9:30 a.m. on Monday we expect orders from the June 27 Conference, followed by the opinions at 10:00 a.m. We will begin live-blogging at this link at approximately 9:15. The only remaining undecided cases of the Term are Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn.
Yeah, yeah, Hobby Lobby boo! So what’s Harris v. Quinn?
I’m glad you asked. LA Times:
[Harris vs. Quinn] asks whether a state may compel even those public employees who elect not to join a union to pay fees to the union, since they benefit from the collective bargaining agreements it negotiates.
A “yes” answer would compromise the rights of workers to disassociate themselves from a union, rights grounded in the freedoms of speech and association. A “no” answer would compromise the rights of workers to form a union that can robustly defend their most fundamental interests.
So, will the Roberts Court rule in favor of free-rider public employees and weakening public sector unions? I’m guessing yes (the rational decision on cell phone search — “Get a warrant” — being a sop to cellphone users in the political and professional classes). But perhaps I’m too cynical. We can hope that the Court doesn’t double down, especially if they want elders to be taken care of by home health workers who are treated like humans instead of slaves. Public News Service:
Harris vs. Quinn could stop home-care workers and child-care providers from joining public-sector unions that automatically include employees in paying dues and enjoying contract benefits.
Millions of women who help people raise children and care for aging parents deserve the ability to join a union and make progress on issues such as pay equity, said Jennifer Munt, spokeswoman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. …
“When women join unions, we gain a voice on the job,” she said. “Many of these jobs pay too little, and they don’t provide women with a path out of poverty so they can support their own families.”
Munt said nearly 60 percent of women would make more if they were paid the same as men, and the overall poverty rate would be cut in half as a result. She said she believes union representation is key for that to happen.
“Public-sector unions have shown,” she said, “that if women enjoy collective-bargaining rights and have a strong voice in the workplace, the inequalities of the past begin to fade away.”
But we’re not talking just home-care workers. We’re talking all public sector unions. PR Watch:
Joel Rogers, a professor of law and sociology at the University of Wisconsin, calls it “the most important labor law case the court has considered in decades.”
This is because when the Supreme Court decided to take on the case, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation dramatically expanded the scope of the case beyond the home health care workers to include all public sector workers, from teachers and firefighters to sanitation workers to librarians. If the court follows National Right to Work’s lead, every state in the country would essentially turn into an anti-union “right to work” state, which would be a significant blow to public sector unions’ collective bargaining efforts and also complicate thousands of existing contracts between organized workers and municipalities, cities, counties, and states across the country.
Remember! “Sanctity of contract” never applies if you’re a worker!
Professor Rogers and other labor experts contend that the NRTWC’s success in the U.S. Supreme Court “would be a disaster for labor, particularly for the public sector unions that traditionally rely more heavily on agency shop agreements.” As Rogers points out, it is technically possible to form a union in a “right to work” state, but when union members are free to stop paying their dues, the union becomes a weak and ineffective organization. The results for American workers are clear. Research shows that “right to work” states have lower wages, less health care and more poverty.
So how bad is it going to be? Economic Policy Institute:
- Right-to-work laws have no impact in boosting economic growth: research shows that there is no relationship between right-to-work laws and state unemployment rates, state per capita income, or state job growth.
- Right-to-work laws have no significant impact on attracting employers to a particular state; surveys of employers show that “right to work” is a minor or non-existent factor in location decisions, and that higher-wage, hi-tech firms in particular generally prefer free-bargaining states.
- Right-to-work laws lower wages—for both union and nonunion workers alike—by an average of $1,500 per year, after accounting for the cost of living in each state. …
Wow, $1500 a year. That’s more than the Beltway is trying to beat out of your 85-year-old grandma’s pension with Social Security “reform”!
Again, totally disgusting and screws over workers? Heck, yeah! To the Roberts Court, that’s not a bug. It’s a feature. They won’t be able to help themselves.
NOTE The PR Watch article includes a ton of material on the usual suspects, the Koch Brothers. I skipped it. Do note that Harris v. Quinn is totally under the radar because the fucking Democrats, silent and complicit as usual, didn’t say squat about it. In fact, this post contains almost everything there is to be found on it in Google.
UPDATE We hear about Hobby Lobby v. Burwell from Democrats because it’s framed as an issue in “identity politics.” We don’t hear about Harris v. Quinn from Democrats because that’s an issue of economic justice. Never mind that home health workers are overwhelmingly female, or that public sector unions are disproportionately female and minority. So here the Democrats have placed themselves in the ludicrous position of defending women’s right to contraception with Hobby Lobby, while not defending women’s ability to pay for it with Harris v. Quinn. That won’t stop them from fundraising on it, or course. I mean, come on.
* This does not mean simply that the union itself would be bankrupted; homes of leaders and prominent members would also be foreclosed upon.