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Writers Guild of America, East Blasts Supreme Court Majority's Failure To Understand How Unions Bring Workers Together To Make Their Voices Heard

June 30, 2014

NEW YORK, NY (JUNE 30, 2014) –Today, in the case of Harris v Quinn, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority demonstrated that it does not understand how unions bring members together to make their voices heard in the workplace and obtain concrete economic gains.


Supreme Court Justice Alito's 5-4 majority opinion carefully limits the reach of the decision, underscoring the difference between the "partly private partly public" personal care assistants involved in the case and full-fledged public employees, and between public and private employees. Thus, according to the Court's majority, the union plays a very different, and more limited, role in representing these employees than it does in most collective bargaining relationships, and almost all of its work involves pure politics rather than traditional collective bargaining.


Perhaps those of us who think collective bargaining is the most effective way to address income inequality and to provide Americans with a voice in their work lives can take some small comfort that this decision could have been worse.  But the Court's majority demonstrates an astonishing naiveté about how in the real world, working people can actually build organizations to achieve dignity on the job and to make concrete economic gains.  


Lost in the majority's careful line-drawing are two fundamental facts:  


One, union members have a wide variety of opinions about the organization's mission and tactics and about the proper course of action in any given negotiation or campaign.  The union provides a forum for members to address these issues and the union's task is to harmonize its members' views and to harness their strength.  The majority pretends that this work can still be done if, at any time, any member can just opt out and walk away, for any reason or no reason.  That completely undermines the collective power of the membership and deprives the organization of its core strength.


Two, the majority does not seem to recognize that working for the government - directly or indirectly - is in most respects just like working for any other employer.  Most state and local governments recognized this decades ago, and decided to permit their employees to bargain collectively.  To suggest - as the Court majority does - that fighting for reasonable benefits and wages and working conditions inherently involves political controversy ignores the fact that workplaces in the public sector are run by managers and supervisors who adhere to budgets and operational timetables just like their private sector counterparts, and public employees have the same on-the-job needs as private employees.  



The Writers Guild of America, East, AFL-CIO (WGAE) is a labor union representing writers in motion pictures, television, cable, digital media and broadcast news. The Guild negotiates and administers contracts that protect the creative and economic rights of its members; conducts programs, seminars and events on issues of interest to writers; and presents writers’ views to various bodies of government. For more information on the Writers Guild of America, East, visit wgaeast.org.


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For all editorial and press inquiries, please contact:

Jason Gordon
Director of Communications
Writers Guild of America, East