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Next Attack on Workers – Will Conservatives Champion “Free Riding” to Justify It?

Building power through strength in numbers. It’s one way regular people can overcome opposition from corporate and wealthy special interests to win concrete improvements in our everyday lives.

We may not be able to match opponents who can write seven-figure checks dollar for dollar, but by banding together, articulating collective demands, and negotiating with powerful interests (whether corporate CEOs or elected leaders) from a place of shared strength, we can build the leverage to win changes that benefit our families and communities.

This – building strength in numbers and banding together to negotiate with power holders – is a core component of what community organizing is all about. It’s also a critical part of what unions do for the workers they represent in collective bargaining.

But now, the ability of unions – in particular, unions that represent teachers and other workers in public service – to help workers come together in collective bargaining to win better pay, benefits, and work environments is under threat in a case that will go before the U.S. Supreme Court in January.

The case is called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. It is, in a nutshell, a brazen attempt to overturn what has been a settled Supreme Court precedent since the 1977 Abood decision reaffirmed the right of public sector unions to collect “fair share” fees to cover the costs of collective bargaining.

The fact that the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), the rightwing legal shop leading the case, asked lower courts to rule against it without even presenting an argument underscores the drastic departure from the settled precedent they’re seeking.

On its website, CIR explains: “The speed with which the case moved through the lower courts reflected a deliberate litigation strategy. From the beginning, CIR argued that the lower courts do not have the authority to overturn existing Supreme Court precedent.”

We all have something at stake in this case – the teachers whose ability to band together and have a shared voice on the job is on the line; the students who benefit when their teachers negotiate for smaller class sizes; the local businesses that benefit from the middle class customer base teachers and firefighters and other public service workers represent.

But it’s also true that women and people of color have the most to lose from a bad decision in the Friedrichs case. Unions have won important gains toward gender and racial equity in the workplace; public sector unions in particular have created avenues into the middle class for people who have been systematically shut out and discriminated against, especially people of color.

It should not be too surprising, then, that CIR has counted among its benefactors not only a range of conservative funding conduits that are connected to the Koch political network, but also a group identified with white supremacist ideas.

Maybe one of the biggest ironies in this case, though, is how conservatives will have to tie their own professed values up in knots to argue their position. Because the whole case rests on creating a “free rider” problem – where people don’t pitch in their fair share to support the shared benefits they receive – for unions. The “free rider” idea stands in sharp contrast with conservative narratives about personal responsibility.

If CIR is to win, it will have to convince a majority on the Supreme Court that an organization should be forced to give the benefits of membership (like better deals through group bargaining power) to any individual without asking that individual to pitch in even a dime to support the bargaining the organization does on his or her behalf.

Here’s the thing: what if the organization in question wasn’t a union representing workers, but instead a business association – like, say, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

Would the U.S. Chamber stand for a legal ruling where any corporation could take advantage of the benefits of Chamber membership – like discounts on products and services, legal documents, business resources, or networking events – without pitching in even a dime to support the costs of securing those benefits?

Of course not. That’s a free rider problem the Chamber and other anti-worker business lobbies would get up in arms about in a hurry.

So here’s the bottom line – unless five justices on the Supreme Court are ready to stand up and argue the U.S. Chamber should have to give free lunch to any Fortune 500 “free rider” that wants it, they should dismiss the Friedrichs case for what it is: nonsense. Case closed.

This article was originally published by LeeAnn Hall in Huffington Post.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leeann-hall/next-attack-on-workers–w_b_8683766.html

Today in Montana: Big Win on Medicaid Expansion

Today, Montana Governor Steve Bullock signed SB 405 into law, making Montana the 29th state in the country to expand health coverage for low-income residents through Medicaid expansion.

Thanks to this bill, up to 70,000 Montana residents who are currently uninsured will be eligible for quality, affordable health coverage for the first time. It’s a big victory for Montana families and communities. But it didn’t come without a fight.

To an outside observer, the odds may not have looked good going into the 2015 legislative session. Medicaid expansion had already failed to clear the Montana Legislature once before. And the Montana chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP is the flagship organization in the Koch network) was throwing all its weight behind ginning up opposition and trying to scare moderate lawmakers away from the negotiating table.

But the Healthy Montana Campaign, a statewide coalition of 10 core partner organizations working in support of Medicaid expansion, was undeterred. Through three years of disciplined organizing, the coalition sent a clear message: when it comes to quality, affordable health care, we’re in it to win it. And that’s exactly what they did.

The Montana Organizing Project (MOP), an affiliate of the Alliance for a Just Society, played an integral role in the organizing that made this victory possible, mobilizing its base of members and leaders across the state, including in rural and eastern Montana, to join the fight.

MOP and HMC partners knew it would require a large-scale grassroots effort to overcome the Koch money on the other side. So they started early. And never quit.

In 2014, when MOP ran a nonpartisan civic engagement project focusing on low-income women voters that logged 19,000 phone calls, 3,500 doors knocked, and more than 3,000 “I pledge to vote” cards. They not only boosted turnout in their target universe – they also built a list of Medicaid expansion supporters, and prepared those supporters to take action.

As the 2015 session got underway, MOP mobilized its supporters to turn out at rallies, testify at legislative hearings, make calls to key legislators, and write letters to the editor.

Leaders in the Campaign expected an onslaught of opposition from Americans for Prosperity. But at the first legislative hearing, the Healthy Montana Campaign rallied 250 supporters, including businesses and statewide organizations. Americans for Prosperity turned out fewer than a dozen people in opposition.

Through this show of strength in numbers, partners in the HMC highlighted the difference between their grassroots support from Montana families and AFP’s astroturf opposition.

That set the tone for the debates to follow. And when AFP tried to run town hall meetings in the home districts of swing legislators to drum up opposition, they got out-smarted and out-organized: the targeted legislators showed up, won the crowds over, and turned them against AFP.

The final deal on Medicaid expansion in Montana isn’t perfect. It includes some provisions the HMC strongly opposed – like mandatory premiums (up to 2 percent of the recipient’s income), a co-pay of up to 3 percent, the ability to remove people who earn above 100 percent of the poverty level and fail to pay their premiums from the program, and a sunset provision.

But the Campaign won on its two most important goals: making sure the final deal accepts all of the federal funding available for Montana, and ensuring that everyone earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level (about $16,000 for a single person) will be eligible. That means up to 70,000 low-income Montanans who’ve had nowhere to turn will be eligible for quality, affordable health coverage thanks to Medicaid expansion.

The passage of Medicaid expansion will also help small, rural hospitals across Montana – hospitals that may otherwise have faced closure due to funding shortfalls – to remain solvent, preserving access to health care for rural communities and preserving good-paying health care jobs in those communities.

The work for quality, affordable health care in Montana isn’t over, of course. While today’s signing of Medicaid expansion is a great stride in expanding health coverage, there’s still a lot of work to do to make sure getting health coverage translates into getting health care, especially for women, Native Americans, and rural residents. MOP and the HMC partners look forward to engaging in the Waiver process to ensure that as many Montanans as possible get covered and get on the path to quality care.

There’s a lot more organizing and more fights ahead to make health care reform fulfill the promise of eliminating race and gender-based disparities in health access and outcomes in Montana. The Montana Organizing Project will be in the thick of that work.