Month: February 2018

Money, Politics and the US Supreme Court

Before the United States Supreme Court is what scholars are calling the case of a Century as far as unions are concerned. “So what?” you say.

If you and I live in the same neighborhood with twenty other families, chances are we have a homeowners association. Paid dues support common services, like snow removal, common area mowing, trash pick up to name a few. We share the cost of the benefit which is common to each family. But what if I elect to not pay the dues, and tell everyone that I’m fine with them providing the services which I will enjoy–I just want my freedom to choose whether I should pay. My neighbors call me a freeloader. I call it my constitutional right not to pay.

That is the crux of Janus v. AFSCME. Twice in the past five years the highest court in our nation has reconsidered its holding in a 1977 decision (Aboud) that a government can constitutionally force its employees to pay fees to a union which has the obligation to exclusively represent those employees over employment issues with their employer. Because of the untimely death of one justice, the Court split evenly on whether to overrule Abood in a 2016 decision. Now, with Justice Gorsuch on the bench, the Janus case is the third attempt at licensing freeloading.

Under longstanding labor law, any worker who is represented by a union may choose not to join the union or pay membership fees. The union, however, must represent all employees in the bargaining unit equally. Therefore, in twenty-two states, unions and public employers may negotiate as part of a collective bargaining agreement a provision that permits the collection of fair-share fees. These fees are calculated to cover the costs germane to collective bargaining, while allowing workers who benefit from the union’s representation to opt out of paying any fees toward the union’s social or political activities. The Trump Administration and his corporate baron friends want more.

This is about rigging an economy and limiting individual freedoms. The freedom of working people to come together and fight for decent and equitable pay for work, affordable health care, quality schools, vibrant communities and a secure future is undermined by the corporate barons who for decades have amassed millions of dollars to eliminate individuals ability to join and collectively bargain.

If the Supreme Court sides with the corporate interests, it would make it easier to divide working people and limit their power in numbers because unions give workers – particularly women and people of color – a powerful voice in speaking up for themselves, their families and their communities.

For example, “The Bradley Foundation, a Wisconsin-based mega-donor to right-wing causes, has invested heavily in the anti-union campaign. Since the 1990s, the donor has given $30.5m to 24 conservative groups that have supported the legal assaults against public sector unions that have reached the supreme court. The two sponsors of the Janus case, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Illinois Policy Institute’s Liberty Justice Center, have between them received $1.6m in Bradley donations since 2003.”

My friend, Anne Feeney, has a song about the War on the Workers.  She is right.  It is indeed.


This Week in Missouri Legislation (Or, Look At What They’re Trying to Do to You and Your Family)

This Week in Missouri Legislation (Or, Look At What They’re Trying to Do to You and Your Family)

Besides traditional attacks on collective bargaining, Missouri’s legislature has been busy in ways which can be very bad for you, your family and your friends and neighbors. This summary is of legislation pending which if passed, can cause considerable inequalities and inequities.

Arbitration – The new legislature requires an arbitrator to rule on enforceability of arbitration clauses in employment and health care matters rather than the Courts. Think your daughter can sue for sexual harassment or workplace discrimination when there’s an arbitration clause? Think again.

Fault – If you’re harmed by multiple people or companies, fault lets them off the hook to make you whole for your loss, by eliminating joint liability.

Fault – So, you are harmed, your claim is rejected and you obtain a judgment against those who caused your loss. They appeal. Currently, you receive interest on the judgment, but they want to take that away or greatly reduce the interest rate.

Fault – Fault also eliminates a business’ responsibility to you for your losses caused by criminal acts on their property, no matter how many times they’ve known of past occurrences and have failed to protect customers.

Insurance companies – This legislature gives them preferential treatment by an exemption from garnishment. So if you think you’ve won a dispute, it makes it harder to collect.

Insurance companies – When they wrongfully deny coverage or act in bad faith, they presently can be responsible for the damages a court or jury determines. This would be eliminated. So, if you’re insured and sued, you can be left holding the bag, just as if you were harmed by someone insured, you may not be made whole.

Time Limits – The legislation shortens several statutes of limitation, the time in which you can legally hold others accountable for their actions.

Unsafe Products – The legislation requires lawsuits to be filed within 10 years from the date of sale. So, if you are hurt ten years and one day after the sale by a defective and unsafe product, the manufacturer is off the hook.

Unsafe Products – The legislation eliminates lawsuits for personal injury and death from Missouri’s Merchandising Practices Act.

The highlighted legislation is in Missouri, and has not yet been enacted. Constant vigilance is necessary. For questions regarding Missouri legislation changes, please contact any of our attorneys.

Please contact your State Representative and ask them to vote against legislation that hurts working families.

Click here to find contact information for your State Representatives.

Response to Politico’s “Behind the Minimum Wage Fight”

For several years, the Carpenters have been out front in drawing attention to wage theft via 1099 misclassification, i.e., independent contractor versus employee. A recent Politico piece illustrates that the pervasive problem exists of investigation and enforcement by the states of minimum wage violations—one more example of lost local and state taxes.

In a day and age when government is strapped for cash, going after those unscrupulous tax evaders for misclassification and minimum wage violations should be a non-partisan issue.

In Solidarity,

Your safety net is at risk

In one of the most comprehensive and illuminating writings tracing the struggle for protecting workers from the losses caused by occupational injury, Professor Emily Speiler’s recent work is epic. See it here:

The importance of mentioning this today? Efforts assailing access to a traditional safety net program–and once inside the program, restricted coverage–are continuous. The next wave of changes adverse to the injured and their families could be to carve out classes of employment, required mandatory arbitration, and elimination of programs to employer controlled, opt out of state systems.

Labor organizations and lawyers actively protecting your rights through state organizations (KTLA, MATA) and national organizations (WILG) stand at the door, often as the only ones looking out for our vulnerable injured and disabled. Our lawyers are active participants in each of those organizations, helped form WILG, and two have served as president. Others have or are serving as officers and directors of MATA.

The choice of a lawyer is an important one, as you may see from time to time in television lawyer ads. That decision should not be influenced by the glitz or glamour of them. We believe it is every bit as important to ask any attorney–“What is it that you have done in your career in service to those who aren’t paying you and who will never know your name? What have you accomplished in preserving the rights of the injured, in contributing to positive change through litigation and political effort, and in being on the front lines of those efforts to protect those who bear the costs of injury and death?”

Professor Speiler’s article illustrates how the struggle evolved between adequacy of protection and benefit, to a focus on cost containment. The shift of focus from that on the worker and family, to employer profits and costs is part of the experience. Where are we headed next? She offers up several thoughts. Be vigilant. At every corner, it’s easy to see the dismantlement of consumer protections and civil rights. What is happening at a national level is and has been happening in Kansas and Missouri. We see a spiraling race to the bottom, and who will carry the burden? Everyone who goes to work, never expecting to be hurt, get sick, or die.