Labor Voices: Supreme Court nominees impact unions
At the UAW, we often quote Walter Reuther’s famous statement that there is a direct relationship between the ballot box and the bread box.
That connection has rarely been more evident than what we’re seeing with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. His confirmation could cement a right-leaning majority on the court for years to come — a court that will be reviewing and deciding labor laws that will impact generations of working Americans. Already, the current court, even with retired Justice Anthony Kennedy’s swing vote, has altered the landscape of working voices through a series of damaging decisions.
The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision gave a greater voice to corporations by allowing for “super PACs” that can raise unlimited amounts of contributions for political activities. During the 2016 election, the Citizens United decision led to just 40 individual business donors giving more than $1 billion to campaigns and super PACs alone.
In 2016, unlimited big business donations dwarfed labor contributions by a 16 to 1 margin. Even among corporate versus labor PACs, big business held a 7 to 1 fundraising advantage.
Slowly over the course of a decade, the combination of unlimited campaign spending and gerrymandering created a perfect storm of anti-worker officeholders and legal appointments awaiting the day that the Supreme Court could have a pro-business majority.
In fact, in the past year the court has:
- Allowed lifetime retiree health care benefits to be cut: Reversed over a decade of court precedence in the case of Reese v. CNH to allow for employers to unilaterally drop or cut retiree health care even if the company had said the benefits were intended for life. Longtime retirees at Honeywell in Indiana and CNH in Illinois now find their benefits cut with no say in the process due to the court’s reversal.
- Forced workers to arbitrate disputes instead of suing employers as a group: In the case of Epic Systems v. Lewis the court reversed a long held standard that no class action or collective actions by workers are allowed. Instead workers now have to arbitrate disputes one-by-one, diluting their collective voices.
- Weakened the bargaining power of public sector workers: In the case of Janus v. AFSCME, the court reversed long time precedence in determining that workers who opt out of public sector unions no longer have to pay fair-share fees even while unions are still obligated to represent those non-union workers.
Judge Kavanaugh, at 53, will impact the court's rulings for decades. A review of his 300 decisions on the books, clearly show a corporate bent — chiefly his decision to undermine the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, established by Congress after the bank collapses and auto crisis during the great recession.
Politics do matter. Who we elect matters. And solidarity still matters. The only way to preserve our way of life, workplace safety and our fair wages is by speaking and voting together. It was that way at the sit-down strike in Flint; it was that way at the Battle of the Overpass; and it remains that way today.
Our collective voices will always be louder than the paper of a Court decision. That is our history in Detroit and at the UAW.
Write your two Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters. Lend your voice in the debate over the Kavanaugh appointment. Speak in solidarity. And vote for candidates who represent you. We must no more be silent in the face of Big Business influence.
Gary Jones is president of UAW International Union.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.