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Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Friedrichs case


A diverse group of workers from across the country gathered on Monday to rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court before justices heard the first oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

An unfair decision in this historic labor case would gut 40 years of collective bargaining laws that help teachers and other public employees join with colleagues to advocate for kids and communities.

Union supporters outnumbered opponents outside the Court by nearly 3 to 1, where IFT member Pankaj Sharma was among those who stood on the steps to explain why strong unions are vitally important to education.

“Parents everywhere want their children's teachers to be focused on the job at hand: educating their students,” he said. “By allowing the union to focus on negotiations, teachers can focus on what we love to do – teach.”

A history and government teacher at Niles North High School in Skokie and member of the North Suburban Teachers Union, IFT Local 1274, Sharma has been outspoken about how unions benefit schools and communities by giving a voice to those who work in them – both union and non-union.

“Teachers work hard every day in an imbalanced economy that currently favors the most wealthy, not average Americans; our ability to speak together, in one voice, is the only way we can be heard. The Supreme Court must uphold that right.”

The AFT filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that unions fight for much more than members' best interests. When workers come together in their unions, communities are better off. Strong unions help all men and women earn a good living and receive more equitable treatment on the job, no matter their gender, race, or religion. 

Friedrichs' plaintiffs falsely claim that public sector workers are “forced” to join the union and to support its political positions. They are asking the Court to decide whether public sector unions like the IFT may continue to charge non-members a fee equal to the cost of representing them to their employer. This “fair share” fee, as established in the 1977 Supreme Court decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, ensures that all employees contribute to the cost of securing the benefits, security, and job protections the union negotiates and everyone enjoys. The fees cannot be used for political purposes.

During about 80 minutes of oral arguments on Monday, plaintiffs' attorneys asserted that their case is about protecting First Amendment rights. Some Justices appeared to accept that flawed argument, while others raised serious questions about the negative impact of overturning decades of legal precedent.

With so much at stake, it's easy to question the real motives behind the case. A recent column in the Huffington Post explained quite simply what – and who – this is really about. 

“The organization behind Friedrichs, the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), has strong ties to individuals and groups, like the Koch Brothers and ALEC, that routinely fight against workers' rights. This lawsuit is part of those efforts; it isn't actually about free speech or constructing sensible policy. Instead, it's about undermining organized labor and further diminishing union strength and worker bargaining power.”

A recent Politico article also connected the dots between CIR and how its major funders, including the conservative Bradley Foundation, will benefit if labor unions are de-funded with an unfair decision in Friedrichs. That same anti-union ideology is supported by Governor Rauner, who filed his own amicus brief with the Supreme Court in the Friedrichs case. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan called the move unlawful.

The New York Times editorial board recently cautioned the Court to be “extremely wary, as it usually is, of upending long-settled precedent.”

“States should continue to be free to fashion their own arrangements for handling labor relations. More than 20 have fair-share fee systems which encompass thousands of negotiated contracts representing millions of teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public workers. All this could be upset by a ruling for the plaintiffs.”

The AFT and other unions in the America Works Together coalition will continue to argue on your behalf as this case proceeds in the months ahead. A decision is expected by June.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, the IFT will remain strong and united if we all play a part. We must each commit to educating our colleagues by having one-on-one conversations about how union membership benefits all workers by giving us a powerful voice in our professions to speak out for our communities and those we serve.


Supreme Court transcripts for Jan. 11, 2016

VIDEO: IFT President Dan Montgomery on "Chicago Tonight”

America Works Together coalition

VIDEO: Teacher Pankaj Sharma speaks out on the steps of SCOTUS

The US supreme court must protect the right of teachers to speak in a loud voice

Conservative group nears big payoff in Supreme Court case

The Supreme Court Case That Could Gut Public Sector Unions

How Defunding Public Sector Unions Will Diminish Our Democracy

Opinion: Supreme Court case would weak workers' rights by Andrew Spiro, member IFT Local 4408

At the Supreme Court, a Big Threat to Unions




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