On the News With Thom Hartmann: Legal Case Threatens Unions’ Fair Share Fees, and More

In today’s On the News segment: Republicans just got one step closer to turning our nation into a right-to-work-for-LESS Libertarian paradise; the Supreme Court announces we have the right to fight back against gerrymandering; the Department of Labor wants to protect overtime pay; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…

You need to know this. Republicans just got one step closer to turning our nation into a right-to-work-for-LESS Libertarian paradise. Last week, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear a legal case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which could mean big problems for public unions. The issue at hand in that case is whether unions should be permitted to charge non-members “fair share service fees” to cover the cost of representing them in the workplace, or whether those fees constitute a violation of a worker’s free speech rights. Those fair-share fees help the unions pay for the legal and administrative costs of bargaining for all workers in a unionized shop, regardless of whether or not they are members of the union. If the unions are prevented from charging those fees, they would still be legally obligated to bargain on behalf of all workers, but nonunion employees would get the benefits of union membership for free. In the Friedrichs case, the plaintiffs argue that making non-union workers pay agency fees is the same as making them pay for a union’s political activities – even though labor groups are prohibited from using these funds for politics. The legal theory is so flawed that even Justice Antonin Scalia raised concerns with a similar theory during the Court’s last term. But, that doesn’t mean that he won’t side with his fellow conservatives on the Bench in this case, just to help his Republican buddies destroy public unions. Without these agency fees, many public unions may not have the funds to survive, and right-to-work-for-LESS could become the de facto law of the land. We must do everything we can to protect our right to bargain collectively before Republicans and their activist judges destroy our unions.

The same party that screams about government overreach doesn’t have a problem with stepping on cities’ autonomy to write their own laws. Last week, Rick Snyder’s Republicans in Michigan passed a bill that blocks cities from raising wages or implementing paid sick leave. According to the text of the legislation, “the regulation of the employment relationship between a nonpublic employer and its employees is a matter of state concern.” However, Rick Snyder and his cronies are not concerned about whether or not workers in their state can survive on wages or take a day off when they’re sick. They’re only concerned about whether or not their buddies in big business have to miss out on one cent of possible profit. And, to make matters worse, Michigan is the 12th state to enact laws that prevent cities from raising their minimum wage or mandating paid sick leave. It’s bad enough that the United States Congress can’t get their act together to help workers, but it’s absurd that cities and towns should be blocked from stepping in when our national lawmakers fail. Governor Snyder and his buddies should block this law, and the other 11 states should remove similar legislation from their books.

The Supreme Court says that we have the right to fight back against gerrymandering. Last week, in a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that independent redistricting committees are constitutional, and they “restore the core principal of republican government, namely that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.” That decision affirmed the right of Arizona voters to create a politically neutral commission to draw district boundaries, and denied the state legislature’s challenge to that law. The ruling protects similar commissions in other states, like California, as well. In an interview with Common Dreams, Michael Li of the Brennan Center said, “By leaving in place important redistricting reforms in Arizona and California, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the principle that voters have the freedom under the Constitution to experiment with ways to make their democracy work better.” Gerrymandering is directly responsible for our dysfunctional Congress and the fact that our House of Representatives doesn’t represent We, The People. The best way to combat that problem is to get redistricting out of the hands of politicians, and the highest court in our nation just ruled that it’s well within our rights to do so.

We can’t close the racial wealth divide until the banks stop discriminating against African Americans. According to a recent report from the ACLU, racially-motivated predatory lending wiped out far more wealth from black Americans during the recession than white Americans. And, those same discriminatory tendencies are making it much more difficult for black families to recover from the 2008 economic crash. As a result of the recession, average black household wealth dropped 33 percent between 2009 and 2011, but white families only saw an average decline of 12 percent. And, because housing equity makes up a much larger portion of African American household wealth, the slow recovery and the inadequate upkeep of bank-owned homes in black neighborhoods have kept those families from rebuilding their wealth. In order to address these problems, we must demand that banks stop depressing home values in black neighborhoods, and help black families recover from the crash. A recovery that only helps some Americans is not a recovery at all, and as a nation, we must do better.

And finally… The Department of Labor wants to protect overtime pay. Currently, salaried workers who make more than $23,660 a year can be exempt from time-and-a-half pay when they work more than 40 hours. That amount has not been raised sine 1975. So, in an effort to protect workers who are routinely cheated out of overtime, the Labor Department wants to lift that cap to more than double its current amount. The proposed rule would mandate that all workers who earn less than $50,440 a year would be paid extra when they work those long nights and weekends. That rule change would increase pay for an estimated 5 million American workers, and give them more money to boost demand in their local economies. The proposal is currently open to public comment before the final rule is announced, so you can add your support for lifting the overtime cap. Americans work some of the longest hours in the developed world, and it’s only fair that they’re paid adequately for all that overtime. Good on the Labor Department for proposing this rule, now let’s help make it a reality.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of July 6, 2015 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.