The Supreme Court: LOOKING for Trouble?

TruthOrConsequencesCan’t help noticing… when SCOTUS goes looking for a case, the Justices can get themselves really far into the weeds.

Case in point:  two years ago, the Court indicated a willingness to “revisit” long-settled precedents on labor unions.  And they ended up with Harris v. Quinn – which could have all kinds of unintended consequences.  (Are they really going to rule that employers can’t fire workers based on who they associate with?  How’s that going to work, if a Homeland Security employee decides to join Al Qaeda?  Or will they rule that Illinois can’t decide the employment conditions of its own employees?  How are all those “States’ Rights” folks going to swallow that?)

The Harris decision is still pending… and it sounds to me like the Court is looking for even more trouble.

According to press reports, SCOTUS is now targeting state laws that prohibit lying about political candidates.  Here’s the WaPo story from yesterday:  Supreme Court suspicious of Ohio law that criminalizes false speech about candidates.

Ok, so… We’re still reeling from a presidential campaign where the concept of “truth” lost big time.

People’s trust in politicians is pretty much at an all-time low.

And now the Supreme Court wants to go after state laws that prohibit lying during political campaigns?  Really gotta wonder.

If the standards used in the Ohio statute sound familiar – “knowing the same to be false or with reckless disregard for whether it was false or not” – well, that’s probably because those same standards are used in libel law.

So… If the Supreme Court rules that corporate-money groups trying to influence elections have a First Amendment right to recklessly disregard the truth about political candidates… wouldn’t that also throw a whole lot of libel precedent out the window?

(Can’t help but notice that there are some high-dollar libel lawsuits pending in lower courts.  MediaMatters’ story:  Libel: Will Defamation Suits Doom Three Right-Wing Media Outlets? How will the Ohio decision affect those cases?)

The judiciary is still the most-trusted branch of the federal government.  But that, of course, could change.  Observers describe an increasingly pro-business tilt to SCOTUS decisions.  (How the Chamber of Commerce conquered the Supreme CourtSupreme Court Hands Chamber Of Commerce Blockbuster Pro-Corporate Term)

And, according to researchers, the rest of our government already represents business interests, rather than the average citizen.

The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.

So… what happens if (when?) Average Americans lose trust in all branches of their federal government?

Can’t help but wonder how this is going to play out, long term.

No, It’s About Profits, Not “Free Speech”

Don’t be fooled.  Yesterday’s Supreme Court hearing in Harris v. Quinn was about corporate profits – the cold, hard cash that employers can save when they break their workers’ union.

No, it wasn’t about employees’ First Amendment rights.  You can safely ignore all that flowery rhetoric from the Plaintiffs’ lawyers (who are from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation… are you beginning to get the picture?)

If those lawyers actually cared about First Amendment rights, they would be challenging the Hatch Act or all those state-level laws that restrict the political activity of public employees.  Or they would be standing up for some of the workers who have been fired by private employers for “talking politics” at work.  (Guess what?  In most states, discrimination because of personal political actions or affiliations IS LEGAL.)

But no, no, those lawyers are going after union agency fees.  Basically, they’re trying to impose so-called “Right to Work” across the nation through a court decision – bypassing all those state legislatures, and asking the Supreme Court to become “activist judges” and overturn long-settled federal labor law.

Whodathunkit, from supposed “conservatives”?

Whodathunk that “conservatives” would want to restrict employers’ rights to deal with their own employees in the way they see fit?  Fact is: the employer decides whether or not to agree to fee-payer arrangements in a union contract.  If employers don’t want to have all their workers paying a fair share of collective bargaining costs… well, there lots of other things to bargain about (like, maybe, better health benefits; or job security).

Nope.  This isn’t an argument about highfalutin ideals, or anybody’s rights.  (It’s well-settled law that workers give up some of their First Amendment rights, just by accepting a job.)

This is simply about the fact that prohibiting union agency fees effectively cuts wages – by about $1,500 per employee per year – and that adds to corporate profit margins.

Which are already “at an All-Time Record Peak and Expected to Grow in 2014.”

Got the picture?

 

NHLN Exclusive: AFT-NH Takes Pittsfield ‘FREE SPEECH’ Case To The NH PELRB And WINS!

 Pittsfield Town Employees’ Statement on PELRB Decision 

Pittsfield, NH- In a statement released today, Richard Walter, President of the Pittsfield Town Employees, AFT-NH, AFT Local #6214 reacted to today’s decision by the NH Public Employee Labor Relations Board on Unfair Labor Practice Charges filed against the Town last spring.

Mr. Walter stated, “Our members stood together to stand up for important rights to be heard about their working conditions which affect public services.  We are extremely pleased with the decision of the PELRB. I am proud of the commitment to fairness and public service our members have shown throughout this long, grueling process. Our members care deeply about the services they provide to the residents of Pittsfield and the attempts to prohibit our speech was harmful to the public discourse which must occur in our communities as we determine the quality and level of services we provide.  We look forward to building a positive working relationship with the Board of Selectmen as we move forward and some positive changes have already occurred. ”

The charges alleged that the Board of Selectmen had violated RSA 273-A, the NH Public Employee Labor Relations Act and breached the collective bargaining agreement between the parties when it issued a directive denying overtime and details to full-time bargaining unit members in the first instance.

The charges also alleged an infringement of the employee’s rights to speak to the public about their conditions of employment.  Additional charges were made by the Union that the Selectmen had improperly changed the schedules of the police and ambulance departments. The Union prevailed on the charges regarding free speech of its’ members under the public employee labor relations act, overtime and details. Back pay provisions regarding detail and overtime have been awarded to make the employees whole for the denial of working these details and being denied overtime shifts. The Board ruled with the Town on the issue of the schedules; however, since the original charges were filed, the schedules have reverted to those in place prior to the filing of the charges.

In its’ decision, the NH PELRB upheld the rights of local union members to speak freely in public about matters relating to their terms and conditions of employment and stated that, “the Board committed an unfair labor practice when it issued a policy prohibiting employees from communicating with the public and media without prior approval from the Board of Selectmen.”  The Board of Selectmen had passed a gag order, only to later rescind it.  Union members provided testimony to the Labor Board that they felt intimidated by the actions of the Board of Selectmen.

“AFT-NH is committed to protecting the free speech of our members and we will vigorously defend their rights” stated Attorney Terri Donovan of AFT-NH, who represented the local Union.

She stated further, “The employees in Pittsfield negotiated a contract with a pay freeze and increased contribution to health insurance and the actions by the Board of Selectmen not to honor the provisions of the contract and long standing practices were egregious violations of good faith negotiations.”

Mr. Walter stated, “While I am very pleased with the result it is unfortunate that during the course of this litigation we have lost at least two long term and valuable employees from our bargaining unit. The Town invests in training employees and when you lose veteran employees, the Town loses valuable experience and knowledge for the citizens of Pittsfield.”

“AFT-NH is the State Affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. The AFT has over one million members with nearly 4,000 members in New Hampshire. AFT-NH represents the Pittsfield Town Employees, AFT Local #6214.

Read the full NH PLRB decision here.