When unionized service workers at public schools in Los Angeles won a hard-fought new contract in May, their leader, Max Arias, of El Sereno, told the Boulevard Sentinel that the union could not rest on its laurels. Union members had to remain united and active, he said, because anti-union forces were strong and getting stronger.
Sure enough, in late June, the conservative 5-to-4 majority on the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling that could cause public unions to lose money and members.
Specifically, the Supreme Court decision makes it illegal for unions to require so-called fair-share fees from public employees. Fair-share fees are imposed on people who work in a unionized workplace but choose not to join the union. These nonmembers receive all the raises and benefits negotiated by the union, but do not pay union dues. The idea behind fair-share fees is that nonmembers should have to pay a share of the cost incurred by the union when it negotiates raises on their behalf.
Without fair share fees, there will be less money going into union coffers. There will also be less incentive to join a union because nonmembers could get the same union representation as members without paying anything for it.
Mr. Arias said that while the decision on fair-share fees is a blow, it could actually result in unions finding new strength. “It will demand that working people truly recognize that their power… [lies] within themselves,” he said.
A recent example of this ‘strength-from-within’ came last May, he said, when L.A.’s public school service workers won their new contract only after thousands of public school employees in L.A. prepared to strike.
“It takes a lot of personal and collective decision making to get to that point but, ultimately, it’s where the strength of the labor movement has always been and what will keep us moving forward,” he said.
Public unions in California also have the support of state laws. A law passed recently in California guarantees union representatives full access to hiring orientation sessions so they can promote union membership to new employees.
California also prohibits public employers from discouraging union membership.
T.A. Hendrickson, a native of Eagle Rock, is the editor of the Boulevard Sentinel, and a former member of the Editorial Board of the New York Times. Hendrickson is committed to local news reporting and to finding a way forward for local news outlets in today's challenging media markets.