Cases Before U.S. Supreme Court Part of Anti-Worker Campaign

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The two top labor cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court are part of a concerted corporate campaign to deprive workers of their rights and to defund unions, an attorney tracking the issues for the Service Employees says.

And if the corporations succeed in their arguments before the justices, unions would lose millions of dollars and workers would lose part of their rights to join together and defend themselves. Corporations would benefit in both cases, adds Claire Prestel, SEIU’s Associate General Counsel.

Prestel offered that analysis in a brief interview with Press Associates Union News Service following a Supreme Court preview session on Sept. 12. The American Constitution Society, a progressive lawyers’ group that includes many pro-worker attorneys, sponsored it.

“It’s very clear these cases are part of a decades-old movement to weaken the collective power of workers and to keep them from advocating for themselves,” she said after covering the two workers’ cases for five-person ACS panel.

The labor cases pending before the nine justices are Janus v AFSCME and the Murphy Oil case, which is three cases rolled into one. It comes up first, on Oct. 2, the day the court re-opens its doors. The justices have yet to decide when they’ll hear Janus.

But on the 3rd, the justices will plunge right in to another case important not just to workers, but to everyone nationwide, hearing arguments on whether political gerrymandering violates peoples’ rights by depriving them of constitutionally protected representation of themselves and their views.

Gerrymandering is important because a gerrymandered legislature can deprive workers of their rights – as Wisconsin and Iowa did – pass so-called “right to work” laws, as in Missouri, and even let a right-wing governor appoint a financial czar to run a city or a school district.

That’s what Michigan’s legislature let its governor do in Flint and in Detroit’s schools. The Detroit schools czar fired all the teachers, despite the union contract, and tried to hire back his favorites. Flint’s czar ordered the city water company to switch sources to save money. That led to the resulting lead poisoning the water.

In the Murphy case, the court will wade into a thicket that businesses, especially financiers, are using to clobber consumers and workers: Forced mandatory arbitration.

Though the case itself, involving workers at that firm and two others, is narrow, the issue is not: Whether the Federal Arbitration Act overrides other rights, including the right of workers to band together to protect themselves – via organizing, class action suits or any other way – under the National Labor Relations Act, said Prestel.

Murphy Oil workers don’t want to unionize over the firm’s failure to pay them overtime. They want to sue as a class. The firm says they must go to forced arbitration, one by one.

The National Labor Relations Board has tossed out forced arbitration agreements left and right, backing both union and non-union workers. Murphy is challenging the NLRB’s decision that labor law overrides forced arbitrations, period.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is also battling forced arbitration. It just issued rules against financial institutions forcing credit card holders into arbitration, though the GOP-run Congress is scheming to overturn the rules. CFPB Director Richard Cordray cites studies showing the financiers win 93 percent of all arbitrations.

The Janus case challenges the right of public worker unions to collect “agency fees” from “free riders” in union-represented shops, just as the Friedrichs case did. The court tied 4-4 on that after Justice Antonin Scalia died. Conservative Neil Gorsuch has replaced Scalia.  

 Prestel said the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund, which is financing the case – it pits a dissident AFSCME worker against the union and Illinois -- may not have the right to sue, because it hasn’t been directly hurt itself.

“And it’s a heavy lift” the right-to-work group seeks, as they’re asking the justices to overturn a 1975 decision for unions and fees, she added. The anti-worker lobby also financed Friedrichs and recruited the dissident workers as “front men.”

But if the justices rule against AFSCME, unions would lose millions of dollars and have less ability to defend all workers, union and non-union, said Prestel. That’s because the ruling would make every one of the nation’s state and local workers a potential free rider.

“The right to work group argues that non-members can get the unions’ services for free. When you get services for free, it’s rather hard to have members,” she said.

Unions are also involved in the second voting-oriented case, which the ACS panel touched on briefly. The A. Philip Randolph Institute and a local pro-minority community group in Cleveland challenge an Ohio GOP variation on infamous “voter ID” laws as a denial of constitutional rights. If voters miss a second consecutive election, Ohio wants to bounce them from the voter rolls.

Lower courts ruled for APRI and against Ohio. They also delayed the law, so it didn’t apply last year. APRI, an AFL-CIO constituency group for African-Americans, and its allies want the justices to let those lower-court rulings stand.   

“Seventy-five hundred people would have been disenfranchised,” in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) “alone had the 6th Circuit” U.S. Court of Appeals not blocked the law, ACS panelist Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s voting rights project, said.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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