By Joseph Williams | Takepart.com
For years, Rebecca Friedrichs, a veteran teacher in Buena Park, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, had monthly union dues docked from her paycheck, even though she didn’t like the union’s positions on school choice and other education reforms. What she theoretically got in return—collective bargaining for pay raises, benefits, and job security that comes with representation by one of the most powerful unions in her profession—wasn’t a selling point; her three years as a full-fledged board member, trying to work within the system, was more frustrating than empowering.
That’s why, in a real-world civics lesson, this week she and nine other teachers petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their arguments against the law and overturn it.
More is at stake than just the $600 to $1,000 Friedrichs and her colleagues paid in union dues each year. If the court agrees with them and overturns the law, the ruling would deal a crippling blow not only to the 295,000-member California Teachers Association but also to the national organized-labor movement; 26 states have similar laws for public-employee unions.
Friedrichs believes teachers should have the freedom to decide for themselves if they’ll join the union, especially if its positions cut against what she thinks most teachers want.
“When unions use our dues money to block sensible reform and protect teachers who clearly do not belong in the classroom, it’s time to say enough is enough,” Friedrichs said in a statement .
At issue is California’s “agency shop” law, which forces members of a unionized profession to pay dues even if they don’t support or have membership in the union. Teachers in California can opt out of paying CTA dues spent on political efforts, like lobbying, by asking for a refund, but they can’t opt out of dues used for collective bargaining.
Friedrich and her colleagues, however, argue that the opt-out process is so complex they end up contributing hundreds of dollars to political activities with which they disagreed.
“The gist [of the petition] is claiming that compulsory union dues violates the First Amendment right for employees to decide for themselves what causes to support,” said Terry Pell, president of Center for Individual Rights. The conservative-leaning organization is backing Friedrichs and her co-plaintiffs, along with Christian Educators Association International, in the court challenge.
“We’re not challenging the union’s authority to be the collective bargaining agent” for teachers, and CTA could still do that even if the Supreme Court ruled against it, Pell said. The problem, he said, is CTA takes “very political positions” on education issues—school choice, for example, or teacher tenure—that some of its members don’t like and spends dues backing partisan election campaigns.
“The First Amendment doesn’t allow the state to compel speech. It can’t force individuals to speak out, and it can’t prevent individuals from speaking when they do want to speak,” Pell said. “The only question is whether the union fairly and accurately represents the interest of its members.”
The high court has heard a case like this before. Last year, the justices ruled on Harris v. Quinn, which challenged Illinois’ version of California’s “agency shop” law. The court upheld the Illinois law, but just barely: It declared unions couldn’t collect dues from employees who didn’t want to join and signaled it was open to another, more focused challenge to the law.
Last year, a federal court in California rejected Friedrichs’ lawsuit against the CTA, setting up the Supreme Court appeal. In a statement afterward, union president Dean E. Vogel praised the ruling and, referencing the Quinn decision, said his organization works tirelessly to improve working conditions for all teachers, even nonmembers.
“Because nonmembers benefit from this work to ensure they have quality teaching and learning conditions, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled it is only fair that they contribute toward these expenses,” he said. “We are confident that this attempt by forces to use the courts to gravely diminish the voices of CTA and other unions will not succeed if appealed, as we expect this case will be.”
Nevertheless, if the law is overturned, it would be a devastating, if ironic, strike against the labor movement at a time when income inequality is a hot topic among politicians in Washington.
Statistics show that unions helped build and sustain the middle class. As membership increased in the early part of last century, wages for all workers climbed upward. Yet as right-to-work laws have been enacted across the nation over the last few decades, union membership has dropped, and overall wages for American workers have barely kept pace with inflation or even have declined.
Friedrichs believes a greater principle is at stake.
“At the turn of the 20th century, unions provided a collective voice for the good of employees, but today, many employees feel trapped within public sector unions,” she wrote in an editorial letter published in the Orange County Register last summer. “The California Teachers Association has gotten so out of touch that union officials bully teachers (like the plaintiffs in our case) who dare to question union politics and policies.”
If the Supreme Court takes the Friedrichs case, Pell said, it will likely schedule it for the term beginning in October. A decision would likely be handed down by June 2016, and he’s optimistic the justices would see things their way.
Still, “you never know what the court will do,” said Pell, “until it does it.”
Despite what you might hear on Fox So-Called News, Obamacare really is working. Uninsured rates are dropping, premiums are a lot lower than expected, and in the states that have expanded Medicaid, hundreds of thousands of working Americans now have access to free, I repeat, free healthcare. Everywhere you look, there’s good news to be found about healthcare reform. Even so, for-profit insurance companies and for-profit hospitals are still finding new ways to screw people over. For example, since insurance companies are now banned from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, they’re now trying to make money off sick people by charging them higher co-pays for drugs that they used to get for close to nothing. This practice has very real consequences for public health. As one expert told Talking Points Memo, “There’s very strong evidence…that even a $1 difference in out-of-pocket expenditures changes Americans’ behavior [regarding their use of medical services].” In other words, when drugs cost more, people don’t buy them and therefore don’t get healthy. But making sick people pay more for their drugs isn’t the only way the for-profit health industry is trying make a quick buck these days. One other scam it’s come up with is a practice called “drive-by doctoring,” where patients are charged for services they didn’t ask for and for doctors they didn’t know they needed to see. Hospitals have gotten so good at “drive-by doctoring” that most patients don’t even know it’s happening to them. As The New York Times reported this weekend, “The phenomenon can take many forms. In some instances, a patient may be lying on a gurney in the emergency room or in a hospital bed, unaware that all of the people in white coats or scrubs who turn up at the bedside will charge for their services. At times, a fully trained physician is called in when a resident or a nurse, who would not charge, would have sufficed. Services that were once included in the daily hospital rate are now often provided by contractors, and even many emergency rooms are staffed by out-of-network physicians who bill separately.” If there’s an example of everything that’s wrong with the American healthcare system, drive-by doctoring is it. Healthcare should be about taking care of people and helping them get better – not about ripping them off. But here in the U.S., ripping people off is the dominant business model. And while Obamacare has outlawed some of the worst behaviors of this business model, it will never totally prevent for-profit hospitals or insurance companies from screwing over their patients and customers. That’s because, for all the good things it does, Obamacare still lets hospitals and health insurance companies operate on a for-profit basis. And that is just absolutely insane. Think of it this way: When you create a company and register it as either a non-profit corporation or a for-profit corporation, you are defining up-front what is and what is not important to that corporation. When a hospital or health insurance company is set up as a for-profit corporation, they’re saying that its first and primary purpose is to make money. If, on the other hand, it was registered it as a non-profit corporation, then its main purpose is to actually help people, money be damned. Obviously, not-for-profit corporations, like all corporations, have their problems. But when it comes to healthcare, they really are the way to go. As long as we stick with our failed for-profit model, people like UnitedHealthCare CEO Stephen J. Hemsley will sit pretty on their $700 million in unexercised stock options and everyday people will get stuck with medical bills they’ll never be able to pay. This is just insane, and it needs to end now. It’s time for America to abandon its experiment with for-profit healthcare and follow the lead of countries like Switzerland, Sweden, and Canada that have either required health insurance companies to be non-profits or have done away with health insurance companies altogether and replaced them with a national single-payer system. The fact of the matter is that the whole American healthcare system is mind-bogglingly corrupt and needs to be reformed from the top to the bottom. Obamacare is a great start, but we could do a whole lot better. We should end the for-profit cancer in this part of our society once and for all and require hospitals and insurance companies to put people over profits by operating on an exclusively non-profit basis. – See more at: http://www.thomhartmann.com/blog/2014/09/profit-insanity-killing-americans#sthash.9JdxZc6x.dpuf
After being reassured that the Retirees Health plan remained unchanged, all of the retirees are being sent a new summary plan description which drastically alters coverages and costs to retirees.
Just an example of those changes is the prescription coverages. Where many of our prescriptions were covered at 100%, now we will pay 20% of the cost. Additionally, where many of us were on a 90%-10% plan, we are now being reduced to an 80%-20% plan. Another huge increase in costs.
The biggest, most devastating cost though is the inclusion of a $200 per person, $400 family deductible. Many of the current plans did not include a deductible.
These are the most glaring changes in the Summary Plan Description. The worst part is that most of the retirees I know, that retired before the contract negotiations, were led to believe that our healthcare package would remain unchanged.
The consistent story in these negotiations seems to be the Internationals secrecy in negotiating on our behalf.
Here’s another example!
Recently, a new meme has been making its way around the conservative blogosphere and has been picked up by those in the mainstream media. Basically, conservatives are trying to push the story that the Koch brothers are not overly influential on the political process and that labor unions spend far more in campaign contribuions and donations to political organizations than the reclusive billionaires. They’ve used data from the Center for Responsive Politics to make their case for them.
The fact is, that the CRP only shows disclosed and direct campaign contributions made by organizations, companies and individuals. On that level, the Kochs only show up as #59 overall for the past 25 years and contributed a total of $4.9 million in the previous election cycle. However, when you take into account all of the ‘dark’ money that the Kochs spent during the 2012 election, that figure balloons to a whopping $412 million. In comparison, the top ten labor unions combined spent a total of $153 million when counting all political contributions.