by Bill Onasch
The Supreme Corporate Court
A headline on the National Nurses United website aptly summarized the major rulings of the Supreme Court of the United States this week–Rulings Continue Corporate Attacks on Democracy, Women, Worker’s Rights.
Adding slime to the slippery slope from the Citizens United decision a few years back, endowing corporations with the same civil liberties accorded to people, by a 5-4 vote SCOTUS
for the first time granted an exemption from a Federal law to a for profit company on religious grounds. They used the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1993, to justify allowing Hobby Lobby to refuse to offer women employees four types of contraceptives that are part of basic coverage that must be offered under the Affordable Care Act.
The Court majority said their finding only would apply to closely-held companies and was limited to certain kinds of birth control that they claimed had effects similar to abortion–a disputed contention.
Hobby Lobby is held by the family of David Green who claims to run the business on the tenets of his Protestant fundamentalist faith. But it’s no mom-and-pop operation. It employs more than 15,000 full-time workers at 500 shopping mall locations. They include many women of child-bearing age.
Many on and off the Court point to the hypocrisy of granting religious freedom to a boss that simultaneously suppresses the exercise of their employees’ religious beliefs.
Four Justices–including all three women–saw the ruling as the proverbial camel’s nose. Justice Ginsberg asked,
“Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage or according women equal pay for substantially similar work?….Although the court attempts to cabin its language to closely held corporations, its logic extends to corporations of any size, public or private. Little doubt that RFRA claims will proliferate, for the court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood — combined with its other errors in construing RFRA — invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faith.”
The other major case decided was Harris versus Quinn. Harris is one of eight Illinois home care aide plaintiffs used as cat’s-paws by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation to challenge unionization of those workers. These shysters for the boss class wanted SCOTUS to reverse earlier rulings that upheld public sector union rights to collect dues from members and “fair share” fees from those non-members they represent. As back up, they argued that since these home care aide jobs are mostly selected and directed by the homes they aid, and largely subsidized by Medicaid, the representation election won by SEIU, and the subsequent agreement negotiated with the state, was not valid. Therefore, the union busters maintained, the union and the state could not require these workers to pay dues or “fair share” fees.
The decision was in the “could have been worse” category. Justice Samuel A Alito of the majority was clearly inclined to support the Right to Work advocates whole hog. He wrote,
“If we accepted Illinois’ argument we would approve an unprecedented violation of the bedrock principle that, except perhaps in the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support.”
However, New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse speculates that Alito could not be certain he could carry a majority on such a forthright challenge to the very existence of unions. In the end, by a 5-4 vote, the Court ruled the home care aides were a “special case,” not regular public sector workers like teachers or firefighters. Neither majority vote by the workers or the state of Illinois could compel the free loaders to pay their fair share.
This decision is often referred to as “narrowly defined.” It begins with 26,000 SEIU Illinois home care aides immediately and will likely be expanded to tens of thousands more SEIU and AFSCME workers in the twenty states that have arrangements similar to the Land of Lincoln. It doesn’t, at least not yet, affect the broader public sector–the biggest component of organized labor and the only segment experiencing real growth over the past couple of decades.
But, according to a useful Labor Notes story by Samantha Winslow, there are 1.8 million home care workers across the USA. Ninety percent are women, a big majority African-Americans or Latinas. Their numbers are growing fast and the BLS estimates they may ultimately top out around three million. In a strategic sense, the ruling is a far bigger deal than many have been prepared to acknowledge.
Two law professors–Cynthia Estlund at New York University and William E. Forbath at the University of Texas, Austin–in a worth reading New York Times opinion piece entitled War on Workers further describe the special nature of these jobs,
“These workers, who are in one of the fastest-growing and lowest-paid occupations in America, are generally employed solely by individual customers, even when their wages came from public funds like Medicaid. Alone, they were stuck with low pay and meager benefits, and states faced labor shortages and high turnover. Several years ago Illinois, like several other states, took on the role of joint employer, along with individual customers, of the care workers. That enabled them to vote on joining a union. They did so, and as a result nearly doubled their wages and secured state-funded health insurance, as well as training and safety provisions.
All of Illinois’s in-home care providers benefit from union representation. Until Monday, all were required to pay a modest fee for those services. But now workers can ‘free ride.’”
They conclude their piece,
“Unions are already reeling. At a time when workers are losing economic ground, we should be looking for ways to strengthen their ability to join with co-workers and bargain collectively to improve their lot. Instead, the court in Harris sided with those who seek to weaken it further.”
Senator Lamar Alexander, the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, was pleased enough with the Court’s compromise,
“Today’s decision is good news for our nation’s families, who are now protected from a disturbing union scheme to turn private homes into unionized workplaces.”
The Senator can rest a little easier in his castle. Yes, it may just be home care aides today but next they might want to come after our maids, nannies, and cooks.
National Nurses United Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro had a different take,
“Today’s actions continue a steady assault on the rights of workers and consumers by what has become the Supreme Corporate Court with a general tilt towards wealthy corporate interests, and further the manipulation of ‘free speech’….[it] sends strong signals of the rightwing majority’s desire for more sweeping restrictions on the ability of workers to collectively participate in public policy through their unions as a counter weight to the virtually unlimited corruption of public life by corporate interests.”
As usual, Rose Ann is spot on. Her union is one of the few that still practice adversarial unionism in the interests of their members–and patients they serve–on the job and also frequently take their case to the community through demonstrations and town hall meetings.
Most unions, and the Women’s Rights/Pro Choice movements, long ago abandoned such mobilization of our base where we are strong, opting instead for litigation, lobbying, and electing Democrat “friends” to office. During the decades of this patently failed strategy we have staggered from one defeat to another.
The bosses and bankers took advantage of this respite from class struggle to consolidate their domination, through the two major parties, of the White House, Congress, state legislatures, the military brass hats, and the increasingly theocratic Supreme Court. They use these institutions against us every day of the week–and now twice on Sunday.
Outrage expressed on MSNBC or MoveOn Twitter hashtags won’t get us bubkus. It’s not a debate between Them and Us–it’s a power struggle. Their power depends on our passive acceptance. Our power comes from us doing all the work. Once we mobilize as a class, in the workplace, streets and at the ballot box, I like our chances.
No More To Iraq–Bring Them All Back
President Obama ran in 2008 pledging to wind up the war in Iraq–and to escalate the war in Afghanistan. He won the election–and a Nobel Peace Prize. When the Baghdad regime wouldn’t agree to continuing legal immunity for a relatively small emergency reserve force to stay on, all troops were withdrawn. Many of them were sent to the other war that still continues.
Like most readers, I have been appalled by the present bloodshed in Iraq and the massive number of noncombatant refugees who have had to flee for their lives. Most of it is motivated by sectarian religious hatred.
But the U.S. cannot be part of the solution because the government that speaks in our name is largely responsible for its beginning. During the occupation American forces consciously revived dormant rivalries between Shia and Sunni. When Vice-President Biden was seeking the presidential nomination in 2008 he promoted a “soft partition” of Iraq along Shia, Sunni, and Kurd lines. The Biden plan is well on the way to a hard implementation through civil war.
Now hundreds of U.S. “advisers” have be sent to work with the pro-Shia Baghdad regime army and others have been assigned to protect the U.S. embassy. Nothing good will come from this. It’s time to get out for good while the getting is good.
Once again some other writing commitment deadlines have delayed the Week In Review. This tardiness was compounded by the server hosting the KC Labor site being down all morning. I really do think this time I will get back on schedule with the next WIR.
A happy Independence Day to all U.S. readers!
That’s all for this week.
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