The Racist Agenda Behind the Now-Dead ‘Friedrichs’ Supreme Court Case

A negative ruling would have led to a closing of the on-ramp to the middle class for women and people of color.

Naomi Walker

Anti-union protesters rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court January 11. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

The Supreme Court has vot­ed 4 – 4 on Friedrichs v. Cal­i­for­nia Teach­ers Asso­ci­a­tion, and thus the case is — for now, at least — dead. We should all breathe a sigh of relief: Friedrichs would have made it hard­er for pub­lic ser­vice work­ers — nurs­es, teach­ers, fire­fight­ers and more — to nego­ti­ate good wages and ben­e­fits. The two groups that will lose the most are women and African Americans.

If the case’s plaintiffs win, our economy, already tilted sharply in favor of the super-rich, will become even more imbalanced.

If the case’s plain­tiffs would have won, our econ­o­my, already tilt­ed sharply in favor of the super-rich, would have become even more imbal­anced. Pub­lic sec­tor work­ers would have received all of the ben­e­fits of union mem­ber­ship with­out hav­ing to pay any­thing for the cost of rep­re­sen­ta­tion that unions are required to pro­vide by law. Right to work” would have become the law of the land in the pub­lic sector.

Behind Rebec­ca Friedrichs, the teacher from Cal­i­for­nia who was one of 10 plain­tiffs in the case, is the Cen­ter for Indi­vid­ual Rights (CIR), which active­ly sought out poten­tial plain­tiffs to bring suit against the teach­ers union — just as it aggres­sive­ly recruit­ed white stu­dents on col­lege cam­pus­es to bring anti-affir­ma­tive action law­suits against their uni­ver­si­ties, most notably in Hop­wood v. Texas and Gratz v. Bollinger. CIR is also on record in oppo­si­tion to hate-crime leg­is­la­tion, vot­ing rights and the Afford­able Care Act — while cham­pi­oning the cause of pay­day lenders, which prey on poor com­mu­ni­ties and com­mu­ni­ties of col­or around the country.

CIR has received fund­ing from the Pio­neer Fund, a foun­da­tion clas­si­fied by the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter as a hate group that funds and stud­ies eugen­ics, the racist sci­ence” of breed­ing supe­ri­or human beings. The foun­da­tion also sup­ports anti-immi­gra­tion groups that share its hate-group classification.

The Right has suc­cess­ful­ly whit­tled down pri­vate-sec­tor union mem­ber­ship to 6.7 per­cent by push­ing state right-to-work laws, sup­port­ing bad trade deals that ship jobs off­shore and using high­ly paid cor­po­rate union-busters to stymie work­ers’ orga­niz­ing. While pri­vate-sec­tor union den­si­ty is less than half what it was in 1983, pub­lic-sec­tor den­si­ty has remained steadi­ly above 35 per­cent — more than five times the pri­vate sector.

It comes as no sur­prise that CIR and oth­er right-wing orga­ni­za­tions have the pub­lic sec­tor in their crosshairs, as the pub­lic-sec­tor unions have long pro­vid­ed a path­way to the mid­dle class for women and peo­ple of color.

The pub­lic sector’s anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion poli­cies have opened doors for African Amer­i­cans and women when pri­vate industry’s doors were not just closed, but locked. Women make up over half (55 per­cent) of gov­ern­ment work­ers and pub­lic-sec­tor union mem­bers. Female pub­lic sec­tor union mem­bers earn 24 per­cent ($192 per week) more and have half the gen­der wage gap of non-union female pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers. On top of that, they’re more like­ly to have employ­er-spon­sored health insur­ance, retire­ment secu­ri­ty, paid leave and oth­er benefits.

Such jobs are vital­ly impor­tant for African Amer­i­cans: Pub­lic insti­tu­tions are the top employ­er of African-Amer­i­can men (more than one in sev­en are employed there) and the num­ber two employ­er of African-Amer­i­can women (approx­i­mate­ly one in five).

The wage gap between white and African-Amer­i­can work­ers shrinks con­sid­er­ably in the pub­lic sec­tor, with African Amer­i­cans in the pub­lic sec­tor earn­ing 2.2 per­cent less than their white coun­ter­parts, com­pared to 12.9 per­cent in the pri­vate sec­tor. And African Amer­i­cans in pub­lic-sec­tor jobs also earn more than African-Amer­i­can work­ers in pri­vate-sec­tor jobs: Black men earn 23.6 per­cent more, and black women earn 25.4 per­cent more than their counterparts.

Many of these eco­nom­ic gains and ben­e­fits are the result of pro­tract­ed, col­lec­tive fights. The Mem­phis san­i­ta­tion work­ers’ 1968 strike, the San Jose munic­i­pal work­ers’ 1981 strike for equal pay and the 2011 fight to pre­serve col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing in Ohio are just a few suc­cess­ful exam­ples. The dra­mat­ic pub­lic-sec­tor job loss­es dur­ing the last reces­sion (Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 in Wis­con­sin), and the con­tin­ued attacks on work­ers’ hard-earned pen­sions and pay (across the coun­try), show these strug­gles will go on.

The pub­lic sec­tor con­tin­ues to be an on-ramp to the mid­dle class for women and peo­ple of col­or. Thanks to the split Supreme Court rul­ing on Friedrichs, that on-ramp is still open.

Nao­mi Walk­er is the assis­tant to the pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of State, Coun­ty and Munic­i­pal Employ­ees, writes the 9 to 5” col­umn for In These Times.
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