The shrill assault on the collective bargaining rights of workers is reaching a fever pitch in Montana of late as conservatives, inspired by a case before the Supreme Court and energized by well-funded corporate front groups, are taking their dishonest message to the Internet and op-ed pages of the state.
One term Republican legislator Matthew Monforton outlined the Republican effort to destroy public sector unions through the Supreme Court, arguing that public sector unions are engaged in “state-sponsored theft” of dues to fund nefarious union purposes like ensuring fair pay, adequate leave, and decent treatment would continue to be enforced in the workplace. He hopes that the Court will overturn decades of precedent and rule against the unions in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, heard before the Court last week.
While Monforton and Republicans spin the Friedrichs case as a question of the rights of workers, the real agenda is to enrich corporate interests. The case was spearheaded by an organization called the Center for Individual Rights, an Astroturf outfit that takes in millions of dollars from corporate groups each year, including our old friends the Koch Brothers and Richard Mellon Scaife.
Republicans are really excited about Friedrichs, because it offers the promise of fulfilling two of their goals at once: eroding union support for candidates who protect workers and actually weakening the unions who protect workers.
To do that, they’re willing to misrepresent the truth and argue that teacher are required to pay for political issues they disagree with. You’ve probably heard that canard offered by Republicans, who ignore the simple fact that no one is required to join a union and no one can be forced to pay for a union’s political activism on behalf of members.
What members are required to pay is the representation (or agency) fee because the benefits like guaranteed working conditions, salary, and other benefits must be given to every worker, whether or not she chooses to join the union. What Republicans want to do with Friedrichs is to let those workers accrue the benefits of union membership without paying for them, weakening the union movement by permitting free riders:
because of the rule of exclusive representation, unions are required to represent all the workers in a given bargaining unit; but, if a union can’t compel members of the unit to pay dues, then some group of workers could act as free riders, taking advantage of the benefits won by the union, but refusing to pay their share to fund the union’s work.
Furthermore, no one is currently required to give any amount of money for political purposes, as workers can specifically choose just to pay the representation fee.
Republicans and corporate interests can pretend to be speaking for workers all they want, but what Friedrichs envisions is a world where workers have less power. As a commentator for the conservative American Enterprise Institute notes, the real purpose of Friedrichsis to replicate the “Wisconsin example, [where] teachers unions should expect their revenue and power base to be greatly diminished.”
And what follows the weakening of public schools and the rights of the union teachers who work there? A for-profit model of education championed by people like Monforton.
Another element of the assault was outlined by today by Rick Hill in the Independent Record.
It ran an opinion piece from the failed gubernatorial candidate which, under the Orwellian headline “Prioritizing the protection of employees,” called for the passage of the corporate-funded Employee Protection Act, a Trojan Horse piece of legislation designed to undermine unions across the country. In what is a barely disguised rewrite of the Astroturf Center for Union Facts press information, Hill suggests that unions are robbing their members and argues for restrictions on formation of unions that will make it far more difficult for a new shop to join or create a union.
There are probably moments when workers are frustrated with their union. Like all human institutions, they may have fallible leadership who make mistakes from time to time. And it’s easy to take for granted everything that unions have fought for—and continue to fight for every day—to ensure that workers are treated with fairness and respect in safe working conditions. That Republicans, especially those so evidently hostile to the interests of the working class, are hiding their assault on unions under disingenuous rhetoric about the rights of workers while parroting information from corporate front groups should give workers an indication what the real agenda is here. It’s not about protecting the rights of workers, but about stripping away the hard-earned victories of labor movement and placing the profit motive of a few corporations ahead of the interests of workers, many of whom benefit from the efforts of unions, even if they are not members.
Corporations aren’t funding think tanks and dubious studies and “encouraging” politicians to pass anti-union legislation out of concern for the rights of workers. To believe that would be to believe that William Clark was looking out for his miners in Butte. They are funding efforts to undermine the most effective check on corporate power in this country: the organized voice of the men and women who do the work in this country to build our roads, transport our goods, and teach our children.