people

Posted on June 30, 2014 by Ruth O’Brien

Talk about false consciousness.  Karl Marx or Herbert Marcuse would’ve loved the Supreme Court’s decision to give freeloaders a free ride, all in the name of First Amendment freedom-of-expression rights — putting another nail in the mostly built coffin of public unions.

In the 5-4 Harris case, the usual conservative Roberts Court — Alito writing the majority, with Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas in tow — ruled that a personal assistant working for a rehabilitation program has no need to support or join a union.

Pamela Harris, whom Medicaid pays to take care of her son, someone who lives with a genetic syndrome, reaps the benefits but is not liable to pay the costs associated with collective bargaining.   She can have it both ways: benefit from a public-union contract without paying for the cost of fighting state governments to secure a living wage, or the irony from the 2000s that state governments don’t ship all their jobs overseas.

Unlike states’ rights in Massachusetts, the Roberts Court upheld Illinois’s states’ rights (relying on the political-speech provisions of the 1977 Abood case.) “Preventing nonmembers from free-riding on the union’s efforts” is “generally [an] insufficient [reason] to overcome First Amendment objections.”

More later on the faulty or incoherent logic of using First Amendment rights against labor — or for employees to defeat their own self-interest.

For now, combine this with a “true” California judge ruling that tenuring teachers inhibits the state’s ability to fulfill students’ constitutional right to a “quality education,” and you’ve got a particularly precarious situation for anyone who chose to work in the public sector.

The idea that public-sector work attracted those who valued public purpose over private profits is long gone.  I can remember the days when the public sector was a place guaranteeing more of a meritocracy, liberating those burdened by discrimination in the private workplace.  The public sector also captured those who sought income stability, for instance, if they grew up simply poor and not part of the disadvantaged immutable-identity categories.

But then again, you have to remember the idea that the private sector pays too much in these times of über income and educational inequality.  (Where’s Sheryl Sandberg when you need her?)  The idea that this is gender-neutral and based on meritocracy would be highly contested at least by one or two in counties just south of San Francisco.