By Nikki Fortunato Bas on 1/18/16 for the Oakland Tribune My Word © 2016 Bay Area News Group
Keep your eyes open. While everyone from the president to the pope is talking about inequality, one case with the potential to strike the biggest blow to working people in decades is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, is about corporate CEOs and wealthy special interests trying to make it even harder for working people -- people like teachers or firefighters -- to come together, to speak up for things like better wages and vital public services that benefit all of us.
That means people like Stephanie Wiley, of Ohio, who works hard to ensure that our disabled children make it to and from school, could lose her ability to demand conditions that help keep students safe. Likewise, Oregon water quality analyst Karen Williams and her co-workers could lose much of their power to push for adequate training on how to protect our water. This has a negative impact on all of us.
The forces behind this attack on working people's rights, the Center for Individual Rights, is a Koch brothers-supported opponent of reforms such as affirmative action that make our workplaces fairer. Likewise, the attorney arguing the case that could strip hardworking families of the ability to stand together against wealthy special interests is infamous for his work fighting the Affordable Care Act.
As we've seen so many times before, wealthy special interests have come together to deny working people one of the most powerful tools for improving their lots, all under the guise of protecting individual freedoms. While professing to protect a single individual from paying her fair share for representation in negotiations for wages and benefits, the challengers have brought a case that could broadly dismantle significant gains working people fought hard to make.
As executive director of the Partnership for Working Families, an organization that works to make sure everyone has access to jobs with dignity and can raise their family in a healthy, sustainable community, I see every day how decisions made on the city, state and national level can impact the lives of ordinary people.
Policies and decisions that favor billionaire CEOs over hardworking Americans exacerbate the problem. As inequality grows in our cities, we see families displaced and those that are left struggling to get by.
But there is a solution. When working people like firefighters and teachers come together to fight against wealthy special interests that have stacked the deck against them, things start to change. We've seen the power of fast-food and retail workers to win decent wages at jobs that were once viewed only with disrespect.
We've seen communities like Los Angeles, Seattle and New York moved to raise the minimum wage by the actions of their citizens.
With inequality in our country at its highest point since before the Great Depression, now is not the time to deny working people one of their most valuable tools in improving their lives and communities. Now is the time to build a movement that expands access to good, sustainable jobs with decent wages.
If we want to address inequality and rebuild a strong middle class in this country, it is essential that the Supreme Court uphold hardworking people's rights to come together to support their families and provide the services our communities deserve.
Nikki Fortunato Bas is executive director of the Oakland-based Partnership for Working Families, a national network of 17 city and regional affiliate groups across the country. Learn more at www.forworkingfamilies.org.