The Labor Prospect: Friedrichs's Fate

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Lesa Curtis of Westchester, New York, right, who is pro agency fees and a former president of her union, rallies outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, January 11, 2016, as the court heard arguments in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case. 

Welcome to The American Prospect’s weekly roundup highlighting the best reporting and latest developments in the labor movement. 

(Compiled by Justin Miller—Edited by Harold Meyerson

SCOTUS + Public Sector Unions = ?

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the most fateful union case in decades. The verdict? The labor movement’s worst-case scenario—making all public sector unions right-to-work—seems to be quite likely. At the heart of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association is the legality of compelling non-members to pay fair-share fees for union collective bargaining activity, but not political activity. And based on the conservative Justices’ line of questioning, they appear to believe that collective bargaining is inherently political, and thus a violation of free speech. Organized labor, not without some irony, has pinned its hopes in the case on winning over Antonin Scalia, who has previously voiced support for such fair-share fees. However, based on yesterday’s arguments, it appears that his legal opinions on the matter have changed.

For more on the implications of today’s oral arguments…

Here’s The New York Times’s Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak assessing today’s arguments.

Bloomberg’s Josh Eidelson also had insightful analysis on the legal nuts and bolts that may come in to play based on today’s line of questioning.

And finally, Ian Millhiser for ThinkProgress: “Justice Antonin Scalia, the justice who seemed most inclined to agree with them prior to oral argument, took a hard turn against them within just a few minutes of argument.”

In case you haven’t been following along, here are several primers to catch you up on various aspects of Friedrichs:

Ned Reskinoff, for Al-Jazeera America, looks at the broad coalitions that have mobilized on both sides to file amici briefs.

There’s some interesting history behind the conservative group, Center for Conservative Rights, that pushed Friedrichs through the courts. Noam Scheiber explored in Sunday’s New York Times. But, the Prospect’s own Adele M. Stan had the scoop in October, smartly pinpointing who is really behind Friedrichs.

One little-noticed aspect of the case is the impact it could have on the separation of church and state. Sarah Posner writes on the other threat for the Prospect.

Back when it was first announced that the Court would hear Friedrichs, Lydia DePillis reported on how the case is pushing union locals to reorganize its membership rolls. The Prospect’s Justin Miller also talked with union organizing directors about strategy.

SEIU President Mary Kay Henry is less than optimistic about the outcome of the case, Politico’s Morning Shift reports.

New York: $15’s Power Politics

The Economic Policy Institute released a report last week detailing just how much impact a $15 minimum wage in New York—a policy that Governor Cuomo has proposed—would have. The findings? More than 2.4 million workers (more than 75 percent of them over the age of 25) would directly benefit from a $15 minimum.

While Cuomo tries to convince the Republican-controlled state senate to back $15, he’s used his executive power to unilaterally hike wages for some workers, granting a raise to 10,000 state workers in November and convening a wage board to hike the state’s fast-food workers minimum to $15 incrementally, with the first increase having taken effect at the end of 2015. Last week, he announced his plan to raise the minimum wage in the state university system to $15 as well.

Not to be outdone, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio—who has a very tense relationship with the governor—announced a plan to hike the wage to $15 for some 50,000 city workers by the end of 2018.

Some critics say that Cuomo’s singular focus on hiking wages is deceptive. As Jimmy Vielkind writes for Capital New York, “As he begins his sixth year in office, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is forging ahead with a plan to combat income inequality that lets him preserve his credentials as a business-friendly centrist: push to raise the minimum wage, and hope it drowns out any talk of raising taxes on the rich.”

Read The Atlantic’s solid profile of The Working Families Party, which in New York has served as one of the most effective progressive thorns in the side of Cuomo and other centrist Democrats. For a look at how the party first rose to political prominence, Harold Meyerson dove deep for the Prospect a couple years back.


Reveal News has a tremendous investigation into embedded racial discrimination in the way staffing agencies hire temp workers. Here’s a telling excerpt: “In New Jersey, blacks were called ‘number 2s.’ In Illinois, ‘Code 3’ meant a Latino worker. A Texas temp agency called whites ‘blue eyes.’ An Ohio agency called them ‘vanilla cupcakes,’ ‘hockey players’ or someone ‘like you and me.’ Another agency owner in Alabama was accused of running her finger along her own white cheek to indicate a preference for whites.”


While on-demand scheduling has become toxic for many companies, another practice has gone undetected: High-end retailers give their most productive workers (who often rely on commission) the busiest shifts to both reward them and also maximize profits.

New Mexico’s Republican Governor Susan Martinez says she’ll include right-to-work legislation on this year’s agenda. The issue caused much political drama in 2015, when the newly Republican-controlled House took up and passed the measure. Ultimately, the Democratic Senate rejected the bill.

Recent analysis shows that Obama’s union election speedup action has been effective, with elections happening faster and more unions winning.

The fact that Nevada labor (primarily, the Las Vegas hotel workers union) is withholding support for now in the state’s upcoming presidential caucuses may bode well for Bernie.

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