By Khalid Pitts, President, USAction
Earlier this week, not too far from where I live and the offices of USAction, the US Supreme Court issued two troubling decisions. The Court’s 5-4 ruling to allow owners of for-profit corporations to deny their employees coverage for preventive care, in this case birth control, that they believe is against their religion, and its subsequent 5-4 decision to allow some public employees inIllinois to opt out of paying union dues, set dangerous precedents for the rights of workers across the nation. Although the rulings themselves were framed technically only to affect very specific groups of employers and employees, the decisions opened the proverbial legal flood gates for corporations and dogged interests who are intent on controlling women’s private health care decisions and destroying the labor movement’s decades of work to fight for working families. Women – and men for that matter – should have the right to privately make decisions about their own health care. With the Hobby Lobby decision, who knows what other benefits corporations might deny their employees or actively discriminate against them in the name of their owner’s religion. In its decision in Harris v. Quinn, the Court handed a long-sought victory to anti-union activists who have been advocating for dismantling unions for years. The purpose of unions is engrained in our Bill of Rights, allowing workers to freely associate and amass their collective voice in order to demand better wages, improved benefits and a work setting that is safe for them and their co-workers.
This Independence Day, I thank the founding fathers for their fight to give us acountry that has afforded us freedom and inalienable rights as citizens. However, when they created a new nation, on the very foundation of religious liberty, I do not think they intended for it to extend to corporations. Strict Constructionist have been clamoring for years about getting the government out of our private lives but apparently are constitutional fine with allowing a CEO power over an individuals private medical decisions. When did the church of Gordon Gekko become a sanctioned religion? But I guess it should come as no surprise considering the rousing amen Governor Mitt Romney and former Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney received among Conservatives when he said “corporations are people too.” But corporations are not people – they are served by people who deserve to have individual rights. Whether it be the right to make private decisions about their own health or the right to assemble and take collective action to improve their working conditions – we are headed in a dangerous direction if corporations are suddenly arbiters of the Constitution.
But this is no time to throw in the towel. The word “action” is at the core of USAction. And we will act. We will act to protect the rights of working men and women to have a voice on the job, and we will fight to protect the rights of women to make their private health choices, free from employer scrutiny. In spite of the courts display of judicial activism, on this 4th, I will evoke the spirit of Founding Fathers and renew mine and USAction’s commitment to using the democratic process to protect the rights of working men and women and to ensure that healthcare is available to all and that those private decisions a woman makes about her health are made by her, her doctor and her God.