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Words Alone Can’t Capture the Importance of Yesterday’s Friedrichs Decision. Only This Meme Can.


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Workers’ rights advocates earned an indescribably important victory on Wednesday when the 8-person Supreme Court issued a 4-4 ruling in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. This means a lower court ruling in favor of labor union rights stays in tact. 

The lower court, the U.S. Ninth Circuit of Appeals in San Francisco, ruled previously that the precedent set in the 1977 case of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education still stood.  The case was brought forward on the theory that “fair-share” fees violate the free speech of workers who disagreed with the union. Labor advocates assert that these fees avoid ‘free-riding’ by workers who benefit from the union’s bargaining power without bearing any of the cost of collective action.

Following the decision, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

Today, working people have persevered in the face of another attack on our rights. All over the country working people are showing that we won’t allow wealthy special interests or their politicians to stand in our way to join collectively and make workplaces better all across America. In the face of these attacks we are more committed than ever to ensuring that everyone has the right to speak up together for a better life.

Friedrichs is one of the first major cases to be tried with a vacancy in the court and reveals the struggle the court’s conservative judges will have pushing laws to the right.  Prior to Judge Antonin Scalia’s death many unions feared Friedrichs might be a deathblow to the labor movement which would cripple public sector unions nationwide.

Workers can temporarily celebrate a victory over their chief anti-union foes, but an appeal is expected.  As Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union, told the New York Times:

“We know the wealthy extremists who pushed this case want to limit the ability for workers to have a voice, curb voting rights and restrict opportunities for women and immigrants.”

AFSCME President Lee Saunders thinks the ruling will motivate people:

AFSCME members are more resolved than ever to band together and stand up to future attempts to silence the voices of working families. As public service workers learn more about the Friedrichs case, they are shocked to hear about such a political attack through the Supreme Court, and more motivated than ever to step up, get involved and organize. It’s never been clearer that our most basic rights are at stake.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, also acknowledged that the fight is far from over:

Millions of working people who understand the importance of their unions in bettering their lives and the well-being of their communities are breathing a sigh of relief today. Even so, we know this fight is far from over. Just as our opponents won’t stop coming after us, we will continue full speed ahead in our effort to mobilize our members and their neighbors around a shared vision to reclaim the promise of America. While we wait for Senate Republicans to do their job and appoint a new justice to the [Supreme] Court, we’re working hard for the future we want to see—one with vibrant public education from pre-K through college; affordable, accessible health care; public services that support strong neighborhoods; and the right to organize and bargain for a fair wage and a voice on the job.

United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew issued a statement reminding people of the Supreme Court’s importance in the upcoming election:

The union victory in the Friedrichs case demonstrates the critical importance of the Supreme Court. The corporate interests that created and backed the Friedrichs case will continue their efforts to undermine unions, working people and the country’s middle class. We have to do all we can to ensure that the next Supreme Court justice does not tilt the court in their direction.


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