- by Jay Riestenberg and Mary Bottari

As the U.S. Supreme Court's 2014 session comes to a close, one of the major cases left for a decision is Harris vs. Quinn,which could effect some 7 million public sector workers in the United States.

The case originates in Illinois, where home health care workers have been successfully organized by public sector unions. Now, a small group of these workers, represented by lawyers from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, have sued and their lawyers contend that the agency fees, or the fair share dues that even non-union members of a bargaining unit are required to pay to unions that bargain for higher wages on their behalf, violate the First Amendment. Agency fees are barred in so-called "right to work" states, which have much less unionization and lower wages and benefits.

Joel Rogers, a professor of law and sociology at the University of Wisconsin, calls it "the most important labor law case the court has considered in decades." This is because when the Supreme Court decided to take on the case, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation dramatically expanded the scope of the case beyond the home health care workers to include all public sector workers, from teachers and firefighters to sanitation workers to librarians. If the court follows National Right to Work's lead, every state in the country would essentially turn into an anti-union "right to work" state, which would be a significant blow to public sector unions' collective bargaining efforts and also complicate thousands of existing contracts between organized workers and municipalities, cities, counties, and states across the country.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWLDF) is the 501(c)(3) arm of the National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC), a 501(c)(4) organization. Additionally, the National Institute for Labor Relations Research is an affiliated anti-union research shop. Founded nearly 60 years ago, the NRTWC has been a national leader in the effort to destroy public and private sector unions. The groups have increased their funding and staffing in recent years. In 2012, the three groups combined reported over $25 million in revenue, making them a powerful instrument of the corporate and ideological interests that want to keep wages low and silence the voice of organized labor in the political arena.

NRTWC's success and the demise of unions in the United States has directly contributed to the erosion of high-paying middle class jobs and to growing inequality, as this chart from the Economic Policy Institute graphically illustrates.

National Right to Work's Deep Connections to the Koch Brothers and the John Birch Society

The NRTWC has deep connections within the national right-wing network led by the Koch brothers. Reed Larson, who led the NRTW groups for over three decades, hails from Wichita, Kansas, the hometown of Charles and David Koch. Larson became an early leader of the radical right-wing John Birch Society in Kansas, which Fred Koch (the father of Charles and David) helped found. Several other founders and early leaders of the NRTWC were members and leaders of the John Birch Society, specifically the Wichita chapter of which Fred Koch was an active member.

The groups remain tied to the Kochs. In 2012, the Kochs' Freedom Partners group funneled $1 million to the National Right to Work Committee, while the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation gave a $15,000 grant to the NRTWLDF, which has also received significant funding from the Koch-connected DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund. Today, at least three former Koch associates work as attorneys for the NRTWLDF.

In June 2010, Mark Mix, the current head of the NRTW groups, attended the Kochs' exclusive Aspen strategy meeting to give a presentation on how to mobilize conservatives for the 2010 election, along with representatives from Koch-backed groups such as the Center to Protect Patient Rights (now called American Encore) and Americans for Prosperity.

In addition to the Koch brothers, the NRTWLDF has received significant funding from many big name conservative donors, including the Walton Family Foundation (of Walmart), the Coors family's Castle Rock Foundation, Wisconsin's Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Searle Freedom Trust.

A $33 Million Anti-Worker Lobby Shop with Ties to ALEC, SPN, and More

In order to push their extreme agenda, the NRTWC has launched a massive lobbying effort at both the state and federal level. In the U.S. Congress alone, the NRTWC has spent over $33 million on lobbying between 1999 and 2013. NRTWC has lobbied Congress to pass a national "Right to Work Act," which is sponsored by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). Paul has lent his name to several NRTWC advocacy and fundraising letters and received over $27,000 in campaign contributions from the NRTWC’s federal political action committee. The NRTWC also strongly opposed the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it easier for workers to organize, while supported legislation that would weaken the regulatory authority of the National Labor Relations Board over employers.

The NRTWC also does extensive lobbying on the state level. In 2012, lobbyists registered with the NRTWC were on the ground in Indiana and Michigan when both states passed anti-union "right to work" bills and are big supporters of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his efforts to crush public sector unions. The NRTWC was an exhibitor at the 2011 annual conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate bill mill exposed by CMD in 2011. ALEC's "Right to Work Act," which has been in the ALEC library since at least 1980, is one of its most commonly used "model" bills. When Republicans took trifecta control of 26 state houses in November of 2010, it was a top agenda item at the December 2010 ALEC meeting. According to a 2010 email from ALEC to Wisconsin legislators that CMD obtained, ALEC referred to its "Right to Work Act" as a "solution… for your state's most pressing issues." Currently 24 states are so-called "right to work" states. In 2013, 15 states introduced legislation based on ALEC's "Right to Work Act."

The NRTWLDF is also an associate member of the State Policy Network (SPN), an $84 million dollar network of 64 state-based "think tanks." The State Policy Network's affiliate in Michigan, the Mackinac Center, was one of the major supporters behind "right to work" when the legislature passed the bill in 2012. Through its board, staff, and other activities, the NRTW groups also have close connections to Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, the American Conservative Union, and the Republican National Committee.

Crossing the Line: Whistleblower Alleges New Election Law Violations

From the beginning, the NRTWC had a focus on influencing U.S. elections. The NRTWC has spent millions in dark money electoral ads, including $7 million during the 2012 election. Although a leading group on the right, the NRTWC has also attacked Republicans such as John Boehner and Bob Dole for not adhering to their extreme policy agenda.

The NRTWC's long history of pushing the line in campaign finance and electoral activity as a nonprofit led to an FEC case against it at the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982, in which the court ruled against the NRTWC for illegally raising money for electoral activities. The NRTWC continued to engage in controversial campaign-related activities, and evidence suggests that the National Right to Work Committee spent $100,000 on private detectives in 1984 to infiltrate the AFL-CIO, NEA, and Walter Mondale's presidential campaign. By the time that case was brought to court, the statute of limitations had expired.

Today, the NRTWC continues to generate controversy for engaging in campaign related activities. In January 2014, the Center for Responsive Politics detailed whistleblower allegations that the NRTWC was running "a massive off-the-books mass mailing operation" attempting to influence the 2010 election in Iowa and possibly other states. The NRTWC did not disclose that it was participating in political activity that year to the IRS. The whistleblower also alleged that the NRTWC was coordinating its activities with candidates' campaigns during the election. Former IRS official Marcus Owens commented to the news outlet that "people have gone to jail for precisely the facts that you are describing." At the center of the controversy was then-NRTWC Vice President Doug Stafford, who is the former chief of staff for U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).

NRTWC Lawyers Push Their Agenda through the Courts

The legal arm of NRTWC was launched in 1968 to take the anti-worker agenda to the courts. With the Harris v. Quinn case, the NRTWLDF is seeking to re-litigate the Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education Supreme Court case it lost in 1977, which upheld the constitutionality of fair share dues. Over the years, the NRTWLDF has done little to improve wages, benefits, health or safety protections for American workers, but has tried scores of cases against unions and organized labor revealing its political agenda. With a large team of lawyers and millions in funding from national right-wing sources, the NRTWLDF is currently trying cases in Arkansas, Missouri, California, Michigan, Colorado, and Ohio.

NRTWLDF's also recently filed suit to block workers in the Volkswagen Chattanooga plant from voting for union representation and to prevent Volkswagen from voluntarily consenting to any future organizing drives.

Professor Rogers and other labor experts contend that the NRTWC's success in the U.S. Supreme Court "would be a disaster for labor, particularly for the public sector unions that traditionally rely more heavily on agency shop agreements." As Rogers points out, it is technically possible to form a union in a "right to work" state, but when union members are free to stop paying their dues, the union becomes a weak and ineffective organization. The results for American workers are clear. Research shows that "right to work" states have lower wages, less health care and more poverty.

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Comments

Or maybe the NRTW are just folk who want everyone to have the "right to choose" whether or not to be in a union. If unions are so great, why would anyone choose not to be in one?
It would be "a disaster for labor" only if "labor" (read "unions") concede that they CAN'T make it on their own in terms of having a VOLUNTARY membership, but rather need the ability to coerce unwilling workers simply to exist. Face it; the labor "unions" of today have nothing to do with the true concept of "union"; instead, they are examples of what happens when a priviliged minority is granted tyrannical authority over an unprivliged majority. The consequences of that tyranny are why labor unions find it such rough going today. Workers recognize them for what they actually ARE...and what they actually are is the ENEMY of true labor. Challenge that? Then what happened to all those UAW jobs? Or Teamster jobs? Or IAM jobs? Or USW jobs? Etc., etc. Workers simly aren't that stupid as to not be cognizant of a bit of history.
In order to get New Deal legislation passed, FDR had to compromise with the racist Southern Democrats. Jobs that were mainly held by blacks, such as domestics, were excluded from the minimum wage law. See for example, "When Affirmative Action Was White," by Katznelson.
"National Right to Work's Deep Connections to the Koch Brothers and the John Birch Society" You forgot to mention Bush and the boogeyman. LOL
Well at least on Conservative sites we ALLOW dissenting posts.
Great question. The answer is that RTW and their friends are intentionally deceptive about the long term effects of their bigotries, and they have a lot more money than the unions with which to steam roll rationality. They favor short term gains, such as not paying a small membership due, over long term security, such as seniority and increased wages over time. People who opt out of membership AND agency fees are freeloaders, capitalizing on the courage of others, who banded together against management to fight corporate greed. RTW understands the importance of unions. That is why firefighters and police are exempt from most RTW legislation, they're protecting the good ol' boys.
Because they want the wages w/o having to pay for it. It's called freeloaders or entitlement cows. That's why RTW states have the highest levels of entitlement drawers than non RTW states.
Nick and kcroofer make a great point: Freeloaders enjoy the benefits but don't contribute. "They favor short-term gains...over long-term security", Nick wrote. Over time we'll get more and more freeloaders. It is understandable and appropriate that we are concerned about the rise of freeloaders because they threaten our livelihoods and our futures. .
So many people have heard this rhetoric about how Bad Unions are. Unions Are the Employees who simply want a decent wage and fair treatment by their Employer. If they have no personal knowledge of Unions then they just believe this 'bad mouthing'. I was in a Union for 30 years. Nobody complained that they paid Union dues even if they weren't officially a Union Member. They knew the benefits they received because of the Union. I was in 3 Strikes during my time. Every one of them was worth it. My husband is also Union. The strikes were tough but you Know when your contract is up and become prepared. Only One time did the Company ever negotiate the Contract and complete negotiation by the time the Contract was up. Several times we worked without a contract just to allow the negotiation to finish. Why does the Company not just get all that done before the Contract expires? The last strike, which I was not part of as an employee because I retired, the Union started trying to negotiate in February and the Company Refused to Negotiate. Period. They sure LIED to the Press saying they were negotiating, of course. Until Federal Moderators got involved they never once Negotiated and they Hired a Union Busting Co & they hired tons of 'contractors who were unskilled and some were actually Criminals(all the while complaining about $$ for the Employees!!) The Customers were Not Happy with the 'contractors and flooded the Gov. with Complaints. They stood by Our Side.. If companies paid a good salary and treated their employees well, like Google, Nobody would Need a Union. Now, Unions are needed more than ever.
Could you tell me what Local you are out of and where so I can understand where you got all that first hand knowledge?

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A couple thousand rabble rousers and nerdy savants from across the republic are letting loose this weekend.

If I lived in South Dakota, I’d probably be in a nursing home. And that would be hell.

The nights would start with beer and end with coffee—a lot of coffee.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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