Catherine Fisk

  • February 20, 2018
    Guest Post

    by Catherine Fisk, professor of law, U.C. Berkeley School of Law

    *This is part of ACSblog's Symposium on Janus v. AFSCME

    Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31 presents a First Amendment challenge to Illinois public-sector labor-relations statutes and contracts that require union-represented employees to pay a fee to the union for services that the union is required by law to provide. Hundreds of such municipal and state laws have been on the books for over half a century in about half the states, and the Supreme rejected a First Amendment challenge to them in 1977 in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. To overturn this settled practice will upend labor relations affecting tens of thousands of teachers, first responders, health care providers, clerks, and other public servants. To rule for the challengers will also require the Supreme Court to make new law in the area of free speech with implications far beyond the working conditions of public employees.

  • April 27, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Catherine Fisk, Chancellor’s Professor of Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law           

    Although it has been widely reported that Uber has agreed to settle class action suits by drivers in California and Massachusetts, it is far from clear that the settlement will be approved or that, even if it is approved, it will resolve the question of the employment status of Uber drivers. And it seems fairly clear that the settlement does not protect some drivers from poor working conditions.

    The two class actions allege that Uber misclassifies its drivers as independent contractors and thereby deprives them of the right to receive tips, minimum wage, overtime, and reimbursement for the expenses they incur (like the cost of the vehicle, insurance, and gas). The settlement agreement stipulates that, in exchange for payments totaling between $84 and $100 million and Uber’s agreement to modify the way it eliminates drivers from its program and to meet regularly with elected representatives of the Uber Driver Association, the plaintiff classes will abandon their claim that they are employees rather than independent contractors.

    Uber has touted the settlement as a major victory in its effort to keep its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. If the settlement is approved, it would be a temporary victory on that issue. Another judge recently rejected a proposed settlement of a similar action brought by Lyft drivers because the judge found the agreement on damages failed adequately to compensate the plaintiffs, but in his order rejecting the settlement the judge said that he would accept a settlement that did not provide that drivers were employees.

    But Uber’s legal troubles over the employment status of its drivers will not end even if Judge Chen accepts the settlement, and there is no assurance that he will. Objections to the proposed settlement have been filed by other lawyers who represent some of the class members and who were apparently not involved in the settlement negotiations. And, of course, drivers who started working for Uber after the period covered by the suit are not among the plaintiffs in the class. Therefore, the settlement agreement will not foreclose them from suing for misclassification.

  • July 21, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Erwin Chemerinsky and Catherine Fisk. Chemerinsky is Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law and Fisk is the Chancellor’s Professor of law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law.

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    The fiftieth anniversary of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is an occasion worth celebrating. On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the first major civil rights law adopted since the end of Reconstruction. Its provisions prohibit racial discrimination in some crucial areas of society.

    Title II forbids hotels and restaurants from discriminating based on race, ending a form of racial separation that existed throughout the United States and especially in the South.  Title VI prevents recipients of federal funds from discriminating on the basis of race, a provision that was crucial in forcing many school systems to desegregate. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, or religion. Initially this was limited to private employers, but Congress quickly expanded its coverage to government entities.

    The enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a political triumph for Lyndon Johnson. He appealed to the nation’s collective guilt over the assassination of President Kennedy and urged the enactment of the law as a tribute to the slain leader. A Southerner and a former Senate majority leader, Johnson was able to persuade opponents to end their filibuster and allow a vote in the Senate, which then joined the House of Representatives in passing the bill. Over two-thirds of the members of each house of Congress voted in favor of it.

    But what is often forgotten is that the opposition to the Act was not based solely on racism. Those who disagreed invoked the principle of freedom of association: owners of businesses should be free to do business with and employ whomever they want. The claim was that the owner of a hotel or a restaurant should be free to refuse service on any basis to anyone, including race. Similarly, the argument was that employers should be able to choose who they want to associate with in the workplace. Thus, opponents of the Act claimed that owners should be free to use their property however they want and it was wrong for the federal government to restrict their choices by prohibiting discrimination.

  • July 11, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Catherine Fisk, Chancellor’s Professor of Law, University of California Irvine School of Law

    As I have argued elsewhere, in striking down an Illinois law authorizing the state to require unionized home care workers to pay their fair share of the cost of union representation, the Supreme Court in Harris v. Quinn disregarded its longstanding rule that it does not decide questions of state law and failed to reconcile the result with the First Amendment rights of government workers or the Court’s other cases on when compulsory fees constitute compelled speech. 

    First, under Illinois law, government-paid and government-regulated home health-care workers are state employees. Justice Alito’s majority opinion in Harris disregarded state law when it invented a vague new category of non-“full-fledged” government employees who have greater First Amendment rights than other workers to refuse to pay the costs of union representation.

    Second, if under Garcetti v. Ceballos, and United States Civil Service Commission v. National Association of Letter Carriers, government employees have no First Amendment rights to speak on the job on matters of public concern or to engage in political activity on their own time, why do some government employees have a First Amendment right to refuse to pay for services that their union is legally required to provide them?

    Third, the Court failed to explain why fair share fees differ from compulsory payment of lawyers’ bar dues, which the Court approved in Keller v. California State Bar.  To quote Keller, substituting only “home care workers” for “legal profession,” Illinois has an “interest in regulating [home health-care workers] and improving the quality of [home health-care] services.”

    Yet there is a way forward. As I argue with Ben Sachs, where unions are unable to require objecting workers to pay fees – whether it’s in right-to-work states or in work situations that fall under Harris v. Quinn – we should get rid of the rule of exclusive representation. Non-fee payers wouldn’t be subject to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, they wouldn’t have to interact with their employer through a collective agent, and they wouldn’t be required to pay anything to a union they didn’t vote for. Unions, for their part, would be required to represent only those workers who actually want representation.  Another possibility is that governments wishing to bargain with a single representative on behalf of their workers could agree to pay the cost of the representational services on behalf of all workers. No worker would then be compelled to pay anything to a union and the dissenting workers’ First Amendment rights would not be violated.