Since 1982, United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) Justice Antonin Scalia has used his seat to strip rights from women, people of color, the LGBT community and labor unions. His recent death is now Labor’s final warning to strike back against the anti-worker and anti-progressive attitudes that Scalia and the other conservative-leaning justices on the Court have lined up with for more than 30 years.
Modern day attacks on labor unions go back as far as 1981, when Republican President Ronald Reagan fired hundreds of unionized air traffic controllers. Now, the fight has moved to the court system where in 2015’s Harris v. Quinn case, the SCOTUS ruled in a 5-4 majority (with Scalia) that home health care workers in Illinois could not be forced to pay union fees, even if their wages and benefits are bargained for by a union representing them. This year, the Court’s conservative justices wanted to go a step further and apply that rule to all public sector employees with Friedrichs v California Teachers Association. With Scalia’s seat now vacant, that likely will not happen.
Virtually all of Scalia’s positions have had a negative effect on working families. It was Scalia who ushered in the modern political era of Super PACs in the Citizens United decision. The decision allows millionaires and billionaires to anonymously dump millions into a political fund for a candidate. Scalia has also consistently ruled against affirmative action and a woman’s right to choose. And who can forget the Bush v Gore decision where Scalia joined the majority vote to make George W. Bush president in 2001?
Public sector unions have now avoided what could have been a fatal blow to their power and future, but make no mistake, anti-union forces will continue to push union issues on the Court and make it harder for workers to have a collective voice.
The time is overdue for Labor to get to work and educate family, friends, and community leaders about the importance that collective bargaining and unions have on building a stronger middle class in America. Public sector unions represent school teachers, nurses, transit workers, postal workers and government employees and many other jobs around the nation. Given this advantage, telling the story of Labor and how unions make America stronger is not hard for Labor to do. This may be Labor’s last chance to do it.
The public has always had influence on the direction of decisions made by the court, regardless of who the Justices are. Throughout the nation’s history, there have been cases that the Justices have simply refused to hear because they believed that hearing it alone would be a detriment to American society. Given that, it should not matter if President Obama or the next president names Scalia’s replacement. Labor’s job must be to get the public on its side so that no matter who is on the Court, America’s working families will win.
Attitudes about unions can change, but labor must get to work NOW. This is the final warning.