Almost anyone who’s been following labor law recently knows that the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-to-4 on an important case called Friedrichs vs. California State Teachers Association. For the moment, this preserves the right of public sector unions to collect union fees, which is good for the labor movement and therefore good for all workers. However, the New York City Central Labor Council is still concerned. There are several similar cases, including one regarding private sector unions like Local 802, which are making their way through the lower courts. There is still the danger that the unions could lose on this issue when the Supreme Court finally gets a ninth member to replace the late Justice Scalia.
The mechanics of the Friedrichs case have already been extensively reported in Allegro. But we didn’t mention that the financing of the Friedrichs challenge came from the Koch brothers as well as the Center for Individual Rights and other wealthy anti-union groups. They see the possibility of destroying union political power and diminishing union clout at the bargaining table.
In fact, the Central Labor Council has learned that the Koch brothers and their anti-union collaborators have already sent mailings to union members and have begun anti-union social media campaigns. Their aim is to persuade private union members to leave their unions and to refuse to pay union dues, thereby giving rise to cases like Friedrichs – but this time in the private sector. One anti-union video, for example, shows unions members as victims with unions doing nothing but taking their money.
Therefore, the Central Labor Council and the New York State AFL-CIO are creating a plan to combat and prevent these kinds of cases from destroying the labor movement in New York. The key is to make sure that union members are invested in their own union. For Local 802, that might mean:
1. Develop new committees of musicians in various fields, and strengthen our current committees.
2. Solicit more member input and activism in general.
3. Ask our members to tell other musicians about the benefits of unions. Especially focus on musicians performing in new hotels and the Latin field, and in other areas where musical growth has been seen.
All of us have to do a better job of sending out our message. We have to explain why the union movement exists, what our goals are, and why a strong union is good for all musicians and all workers. The future of the labor movement depends on it.
Marvin Moschel is the Local 802 delegate to the New York City Central Labor Council and an elected member of the union’s Trial Board.