Published in the July 24, 2015 Santa Maria Times.
An old adage says, be careful what you wish for. On June 30 the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association case.
For teachers, firefighters, police, nurses and all other public employee union members across the country — including those in Santa Maria — the implications of this case could be catastrophic, nothing less than the end of public employee unions as we know them.
That is what the plaintiffs are wishing for, something that in the long run they may live to regret.
The plaintiffs in the Friedrichs case are 10 public school teachers who are challenging the right of a union to collect a service fee from them as non-union members in lieu of actual union dues to support the collective bargaining the union does on their behalf.
A public employee union must by law represent all the people in its bargaining unit, whether they have chosen to be union members, and they benefit from the increases in pay or any other improvements the union bargains for them, just as union members do. Hence, the logic behind the service fee.
As president of the Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan Hancock College, I occasionally hear from someone who objects to the service fee — I don’t like unions, they will say; I don’t want to be represented by one and I don’t want to pay anything to one.
My reply is simple — show the courage of your convictions. Refuse to accept the benefits we have bargained for you. Refuse the raise in pay — most recently 8 percent — we just agreed on. Insist on being paid at the old rate. Instead of being issued a free parking permit, pay the $16 fee that was charged before we negotiated free parking for our members. Do not take advantage of the paid office hours we fought for and meet with students on your own time.
Do this and I will believe you are sincere. Otherwise I will know you are someone who is happy to take advantage of the benefits the union has gotten for them, but doesn’t want to give anything back.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear the Friedrichs case in October. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, those people who object to being associated with a union might see their wish come true. With the loss of the service fee, public employee unions will be dealt a crippling blow. Revenues would decline dramatically and the unions’ bargaining power would take a similar nosedive.
Anti-union legislation in the private sector has reduced union membership there to less than 7 percent of the workforce, with a consequent deterioration in pay and middle-class living standards. A negative ruling in the Friedrichs case would do the same to public-sector unions, which have been the last bastion of a strong labor movement in the United States.
Once it was possible to mention Big Business and Big Labor in the same breath. Unions were a healthy and useful counterbalance to unchecked corporate power. It is no coincidence that middle-class living standards were highest in the 1950s and 1960s, when unions were at their peak in both membership and influence.
But with the decline of unions that began in the 1970s, organized labor in the 21st century is a miniature David facing a corporate Goliath. With the downfall of unions has come a steady decline of the middle-class’ standard of living.
The plaintiffs may get their wish, but they might be sorry they did.
Mark James Miller, President, Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan Hancock College, CFT Local 6185, Santa Maria, CA