A Minnesota firefighter, school custodian and special education teacher said fair treatment on the job and the quality of public services are at stake in a case the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Monday.
Workers across the country are speaking out in advance of Monday’s oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that challenges the authority of public sector unions to collect “fair share fees” from all employees they represent.
About half of the states, including Minnesota, have laws allowing public unions to charge non-members for the cost of representing them through contract negotiations and grievance handling. If the court rules in favor of Rebecca Friedrichs, a California public school teacher, she and other non-members could avoid paying any dues while still enjoying the benefits of a union contract.
Public employee union members, speaking at a news conference in Minneapolis Friday, said the case could have far-ranging effects on jobs and services.
“Being a union member gives me a voice in my profession,” improving the quality of education for students, said Shannon Jax, a special education teacher in St. Paul Public Schools and a member of Education Minnesota.
Chris Parson, a captain in the St. Paul Fire Department and president of the Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters, concurred. Having worked as both a unionized and non-unionized firefighter, he said the union environment provides better pay and benefits, a stronger focus on safety and the ability to advocate for better fire protection services.
“Minnesota has a strong economy because we have a strong union tradition,” Parsons said. “The anti-labor forces behind the Friedrichs case are trying to turn back the clock on labor unions and middle class America by crippling public sector unions' ability to effectively bargain for our members."
Anna Angeles-Farris, a custodian in the Lakeville schools and member of SEIU Local 284 said unionization turned what had been low-paying service jobs into family-supporting jobs.
“Unions make for stronger communities and they make workplaces more equitable,” she said.
Poor travel conditions prevented Connie Andrews, a retired Itasca State Park worker and member of AFSCME, from participating in the news conference. But in a written statement distributed to reporters, she lauded the role unions have played in promoting equal treatment.
“In 1982, we made Minnesota the first state to provide pay equity for state government workers,” Andrews said. “Today, for comparable work in state service, women finally earn one dollar for every dollar men earn. We did it by coming together and speaking up through collective bargaining.
“For our mothers, our sisters and our daughters and granddaughters, we must challenge this terrible lawsuit. It could stop decades of progress that unions have made for working women.”
Events like the Minneapolis news conference are being held around the country and unions plan to rally Monday outside the Supreme Court building. The court will hear oral arguments in the case, but is not expected to issue a ruling until sometime between April and June.