Tracking the latest developments in the fight for a fair America
By Bill Lurye
General Counsel, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
On Monday, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Harris v. Quinn, a case that was largely ignored by court watchers and much of the media until very recently. At bottom, the case presented a very straightforward question: could the State of Illinois enter into a collective bargaining agreement with SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana that required homecare workers who were not members of SEIU HII to pay to the union their fair share of the union’s cost of representing it? In the lower courts, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW), which brought the lawsuit, sought to block home care and other independent providers, like child care providers, from forming unions and having collective bargaining agreements that include fair share fees.
But with Justice Alito at the helm, the Supreme Court entertained new arguments from NRTW that placed before the Court the very existence of public sector unions. NRTW aggressively challenged the constitutional right of all public service employees to form unions to be their exclusive bargaining representative in the workplace; to have their union bargain over matters of concern to them, like wages, benefits, and working conditions; and to have collective bargaining agreements that permit the payment of fair share fees by nonmembers for the services the union provided to them and other bargaining unit members, seeking to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. Read more
Monday’s Supreme Court decisions in Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn threaten women’s right to participate equally in the workplace
By Michelle D. Schwartz,
AFJ Director of Justice Programs
It’s probably fair to speculate that the vast majority of the 60,000 SCOTUSblog readers Monday morning were there to see what happened in Hobby Lobby—the Affordable Care Act contraception case—and that most casual Supreme Court observers have at most a passing awareness that the Court also decided a major union case, Harris v. Quinn. There are many reasons why we all should pay attention to Harris v. Quinn, but here I will focus on just one that is at the heart of both Hobby Lobby and Harris: In both cases, a majority of five men led by Justice Alito put at risk women’s ability to participate fully and equally in the modern American workforce.
The availability, accessibility, and affordability of contraceptive care are critical to women’s ability to excel and compete in the workplace. Planned Parenthood has demonstrated that birth control has led to dramatically increased workplace participation, higher college graduation rates, and better wages for women. Furthermore, contraceptive coverage is a benefit women have earned—and paid for. As Gretchen Borchelt of the National Women’s Law Center wrote on this page in March:
[I]t’s actually women workers who are paying for this benefit. Health insurance is part of an employee’s compensation—women pay with their labor and through the premium they contribute for their health insurance. A woman worker is entitled to all of the preventive services without cost-sharing, as guaranteed by the law. She deserves to be able to meet her health care needs through her regular insurance plan, just as she accesses other health care benefits, and just as men are able to access the health care they need. This critical health care service—which 99% of women have used at one point in their lives—should not be carved out just because her employer objects to it. Read more
Nominations are a good start, but it’s only just over a quarter of the job
We are pleased that, at long last, Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz stopped dithering long enough to allow President Obama to send the Senate nominees to fill three vacancies on federal courts in Texas. And we are pleased that, in keeping with his strong record on diversity, one of the President’s nominees would be the first openly gay judge on the Texas federal courts.
But Cornyn and Cruz still have done little more than a quarter of the job. There still are eight judicial vacancies without nominees in Texas – the most, by far, of any state. California and New York, for example, have only one each.
- Texas still has more than a quarter of all vacancies nationwide for which there is not even a nominee (eight out of 30).
- Six Texas seats on United States district courts still are vacant without nominees.
- There are two more Texas vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
- It’s been 2,035 days – more than five years – from the day Judge Royal Furgeson stepped down from his bench in the Western District until today – when a replacement finally was nominated.
- Three more Texas federal judges have announced plans to retire or take senior status – so soon there will be three more vacancies to fill.
- None of the nominees would fill a seat in the Southern District, which has the most vacancies.
All this would be bad enough in any state, but it’s worse in Texas, which wouldn’t have enough judges even if every bench were filled. According to the Judicial Conference of the United States—headed by Chief Justice John Roberts—Texas needs at least eight new judgeships to meet its growing federal caseload, in particular criminal cases, which have skyrocketed in recent years.
We intend to keep the pressure on Senators Cruz and Cornyn to make sure today’s nominations are only the beginning. And if you’re from Texas, you can help!
The computer giant is trying to force us into forced arbitration
Microsoft, the company that gave us Vista, Ctrl-Alt-Delete and Clippy, has something in store for us that’s even worse. The company has been phasing in forced arbitration clauses in its “services agreement.”
That means if you are harmed by a Microsoft product or service, you can’t stand up for your rights in court. Instead, you have to take your case to an arbitrator hired by Microsoft. Arbitrators do not need to be lawyers or follow precedent, yet their word is nearly always final and unappealable. One study found that such arbitrators rule for the businesses that hire them 94 percent of the time.
Microsoft also won’t let you band together with others the company has wronged and bring a class-action suit – often the only way to stop a corporation from cheating millions of consumers. The latest version of the services agreement makes this ban even more strict.
One can see why Microsoft might be fond of forced arbitration. In a 2003 e-mail, company founder Bill Gates used the following terms to describe what it was like to use one of his own products:
disappointed, backwards, unusable, totally confusing, strange, pathetic, completely odd, weird, scary, crazy, slow, garbage, not usable, crapped up, crap, absolute mess, craziness, terrible.
Perhaps the best indicator of just how bad a deal forced arbitration is for consumers is the sneaky way big businesses force it on us.
Take Microsoft’s latest email announcing the changes. “Our users’ needs are at the center of everything we do,” says the happy little email. “That’s why we are updating the Microsoft Services Agreement.” But there’s no mention of forced arbitration in the email itself. And there’s no mention of it in the FAQ that supposedly offers the “highlights.”
No, you have to click on the link to the fine print and scroll down to Section 10 before you find out what Microsoft is taking away. If forced arbitration is so great, why does it have to be forced? Why not offer it on a voluntary basis? And why aren’t companies bragging about it instead of tucking it away in those long, long “agreements” that few of us have the time to read?
There is a solution. The Arbitration Fairness Act would put an end to these outrages. If you don’t want your rights “clipped” by the company that gave us Clippy – or by all the other corporations on the forced arbitration bandwagon – tell your Members of Congress to pass the Arbitration Fairness Act.
Join us to preview the new film, Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa
By Julius Goldberg-Lewis, AFJ Outreach Intern
“All revolutions are impossible until they happen. Then they become inevitable.”
On Friday, June 20th, Alliance for Justice will host a reception for Abby Ginzberg. During the reception Abby will present clips of her new film, Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa. The film chronicles the extraordinary story of Albie Sachs’ journey through imprisonment, assassination attempts, his place on the South African Constitutional Court, and his authorship of a new South African Constitution. RSVP here.
The story of Albie Sachsis one of struggle and triumph against Apartheid South Africa, where violence, oppression and injustice were a daily reality. A lawyer by trade, Sachs defendedhis clients against the racial laws that existed at the time. He continuously fought against apartheid and because of this, was tortured, imprisoned in solitary confinement, and eventually exiled. During his exile in Mozambique, South African security forces planted a bomb in his car. He survived, but lost an eye and an arm.
There were those who promised vengeance against the perpetrators of the attack, but Sachs had a different end in mind. After the release of Nelson Mandela, Sachs was able to return to South Africa and exact his ‘soft vengeance.’ The vengeance that Albie Sachs sought was not harm to those who tried to kill him, but a new constitution enshrining the egalitarian values, which apartheid sought to destroy. Sachs was nominated by Mandela to be one of the first 11 justices on the South African Constitutional court. Serving on that Court for 15 years, Sachs had the opportunity to continue to shape the constitution and direction of South Africa.
In telling the story of Albie Sachs, award-winning filmmaker Abby Ginzberg presents not only the story of Sachs’ fight for justice and equality, but also a personal narrative of how Sachs viewed his work as a form of art. Ginzberg highlights Sachs’ lifelong love of art and music, which drove him to be the Chief Curator for the Constitutional Court and dramatically influenced what he hoped to see in the new South Africa. For Sachs, human dignity, equality, art and music all come from the same wellspring, and Ginzberg’s film presents a unique picture of how that philosophy was able to shape the future of South Africa.
Ginzberg will be screening Soft Vengance at AFI Docs in Silver Spring, MD on June 10. Afterwards she will screen excerpts at Alliance for Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C., during a reception cosponsored by The Institute for Policy Studies and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Refreshments will be served during the reception and guests will have a special opportunity to chat with the filmmaker. The reception is free and open to the public, but guests are asked to rsvp.