Results tagged “closed shop” from PlanetGreen.org

On Certiorari With Michael Carvin

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SC.jpgJust this month, the Supreme Court heard argument in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, (14-915), a high-profile case about whether or not "agency shop" arrangements between a labor union and a public-sector employer violate the First Amendment. This question has not been brought in front of the Court as a broad constitutional issue since 1977, when these bargains were adjudged permissible in Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Education (431 U.S. 209) - and the legal landscape has undeniably shifted since then. The membership of the Court has changed entirely, and its interpretation of free speech has evolved almost as drastically.

The question presented in this new challenge is rather vague, partly because it is so precisely tailored to the circumstances of the cause. The decision, however, will definitely affect more than this individual dispute between an elementary-school teacher and the association she doesn't believe she should be forced to subsidize - so I tried to find out how the petitioners' main lawyer, Michael Carvin, envisions the legacy of their case.

Their brief gives us a fairly good idea of what they are specifically asking the Court to do. The surefooted style is the first thing that strikes you about Mr. Carvin's latest Supreme Court creation, which weaves punchy lines from familiar opinions such as Citizens United v. FEC (558 U.S. 310) and West Virginia v. Barnette (319 U.S. 624) in with a direct, uncomplicated argument. However, neither it nor the recent oral arguments provide much political perspective on the question or indicate the extent to which a reversal might impact other areas of labor law.

Therefore, I reached out to Mr. Carvin for answers to some of the questions that occurred to me while I was reading and listening to his positions. According to him, the vital element of this delicate constitutional equation is the government as the employer. Similar agreements between a union and a private corporation would be allowed, as would contracts requiring a worker to become a member of a specific union. Interestingly, though, he did not rule out the possibility that victory on his part could open the door to "yellow dog" conditions in public sector jobs (that is, contracts which prohibit union activity by employees, so named because early unions looked on signers as being "lower than yellow dogs"). He justified this by pointing out that both the S.C. and President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed that, in his words, "there is no constitutional right to collective bargaining with a public employer."

Both sides have legitimate concerns as to the application of the eventual ruling, and their worries are far from premature. The decision is unlikely to be rendered anytime before June, but its heritage as a precedent and the issues it deals with will continue to influence American politics and law for decades after that. Yet, as incontrovertibly important as the right to organize remains, the implications of forcing public workers to subsidize private interests of any kind could prove disastrous.

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