California Democrats, nurses blast Supreme Court blow to labor unions; Trump hails as victory

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The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that government workers can't be forced to contribute to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining, dealing a serious financial blow to organized labor.

The decision was immediately criticized by California Democrats and the nurses union and hailed by President Trump. 

Trump tweeted "Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!" shortly after the justices' 5-4 ruling that scrapped a 41-year-old decision allowing states to require that public employees pay some fees to unions that represent them, even if the workers choose not to join.

The ruling fulfills a longtime wish of conservatives to get rid of the so-called fair share fees that non-members pay to unions in roughly two dozen states.

While Trump received the support of some union workers in his 2016 campaign, labor unions have largely sided with Democrats.

But the ruling did not sit well with Democrats.

“Our country’s success depends on the right of all workers – including teachers, firefighters, peace officers and nurses – to collectively negotiate fair wages, benefits and protections," U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement regarding the Janus v. AFSCME decision. "The Court’s decision today undermines the basic American premise, held up by courts for more than four decades, that if a union represents all employees in negotiating and administering a collective bargaining agreement, then all employees ought to share the costs of that representation.
“We also cannot ignore that this decision is part of an ongoing trend of the Roberts Court that has repeatedly sided with employers over employees, corporations over consumers, and special interests over vulnerable Americans. Congress must act to bolster the American labor movement that built the middle class of this country. It is up to all of us to fight to protect the ability of working families to make a living wage and pursue the American dream now more than ever.”

California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom echoed Harris' sentiments. He released this statement: "The right of workers to organize as unions for fair wages and working conditions is a bedrock principle underpinning America's middle class. I strongly reject the reasoning underlying this ruling and California must chart its own path to strengthen the rights of workers."

In San Francisco, the California Nurses Association National Nurses United planned to hold a noon rally, similar to ones around the country, at the University of California San Francisco on Parnassus Avenue.

Ahead of the rally, the nurses said that the the "Supreme Court decision today to roll back decades of union and worker rights in Janus v. AFSCME poses a significant threat to patient safety as well as worker and community health and economic standards." 

The nation's largest union of registered nurses is urging Congress to reverse the decision and support the Workplace Democracy Act, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Senate and Rep. Mark Pocan in the House to strengthen the rights of workers to form unions – and for state legislators to also act to protect the rights of workers and unions.
Additionally, “we encourage all non-union workers to join strong unions to protect their right to act collectively to advocate for themselves, their co-workers, and the public well being,” said NNU Co-President Deborah Burger, who is a registered nurse.
Burger added that this decision is “a gift to billionaires, corporate executives and far right lobbying groups that have worked for years to destroy worker rights and unions. It also harms women and people of color who have historically had more economic opportunity in public workplaces in contrast to decades of discrimination by private employers.”

Janus is modeled after so-called “right to work” private sector laws in 28 states. In those states, median household incomes are $8,174 less than in non-right to work states, people under 65 are 46 percent more likely to be uninsured, infant mortality rates are 12 percent higher, and workplace deaths occur 49 percent more often. 

In healthcare, the decision “seeks to handcuff registered nurses and other public healthcare workers who challenge unsafe conditions or cuts in patient services,” Burger said.  “Nurses have seen hospitals aggressively pushing to cut corners that lead to dangerous conditions that jeopardize patient lives, as well as corporate-aligned politicians shredding public healthcare and other safety net programs."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.