July 15th, 2014

SCOTUS confirms that owners’ rights trump workers

WBI friend Lewis Maltby wrote convincingly in his book, Can They Do That?, that American workers have very few rights. Without a union bargained contract, all rights are owned by management unless state or federal laws provide specific protections. Among the industrialized nations (members of the OECD), US workers have the fewest rights.

Robert Fuller, another WBI friend, speaks and writes eloquently about somebodies and nobodys, the hierarchy in our lives. For him, the issue is rankism. It makes good sense in our nation of ever-expanding income inequality.

From the work of stress guru, Robert Sapolsky, Stanford University professor and researcher, we learn that simply organizing social groups in hiearchical ways with rank playing a role in how all resources are unevenly divided is stressful. Those dominated by others are doomed to lives of ongoing stress. Social subordination generates distress, that in turn, triggers major life-threatening diseases through disruption of the adrenocortical, cardiovascular, reproductive, immunological, and neurobiological systems (Sapolsky, 2005).

Workers bullied by higher ranking bosses (56% of all targets) will find it nearly impossible to avoid contact. That toxic contact is the exposure to stress that causes health harm.

I say all this to put into context the June 30, 2014 decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS). By majority votes of the conservative-dominated court, the rights of company owners were expanded. The (chief justice) Roberts Court has never ruled against corporate interests.

The two cases decided upon were Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of HHS v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (13-354) and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation v. Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of HHS (13-356) — jointly dubbed the Hobby Lobby decision.

The justices ruled on the effect of the Affordable Care Act (ACA-“Obamacare”) on provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). The RFRA prohibits the “Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion …” The exercise was defined vaguely as “any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.” An additional ill-defined concept in the SCOTUS majority opinion was a “sincere” religious belief. No clarification was given. So, the simple claim of holding a belief is good enough for the court.

David Green of Hobby Lobby, his son who runs Mardel (a third company named in the decision) and Mennonite Norman Hahn, of Conestoga Wood felt personally persecuted for their “religious beliefs.” They whined that their beliefs dwarfed those of employees. To paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, these MEN are the new “religious royalists” in our culture.

Yes, Green, the father, a preacher’s kid himself, sought dominion over all women to whom he pays a salary. Acting more like a polygamist with total control over his harem, the 72-y.o. MAN with a net worth $5.1 billion decided he also needed to interfere with health insurance plans that dared to include no-cost contraceptive care.

As much as beliefs, the case was about wanting to save money. The ACA fines employers if they refuse to provide contraceptive coverage. Hobby Lobby was facing a fine of about $475 million per year given its 15,000 employees. Conestoga faced a $33 million annual fine. And if they dropped health insurance coverage, they could face penalties of roughly $26 million for Hobby Lobby and $1.8 million for Conestoga.

When the ACA was being debated in Congress, religious opponents proposed a “conscience amendment,” which would have allowed denial of coverage based on “religious beliefs or moral convictions” of employers or insurance providers. The Amendment did not pass the Senate. Women could choose contraceptive methods with the aid of their physicians. The SCOTUS added employer conscience to the law after the fact against the wishes of Congress.

The owners of “privately held” companies (estimated to be over 90% of all businesses) are clearly human beings. The owners as a group define the employer and the company. As owners with “sincere” religious beliefs, their rights under the RFRA supersede those of their workers, though the owner group is vastly outnumbered by employees. SCOTUS grants those with the highest rank to govern the rights of all employees! SCOTUS gave owners even more power than they now have.

Of course, the scathing dissent written by Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out the attack on women employees embodied by the decision. If those “sincere” religious beliefs held by the owners (all men in the two corporations named in the Hobby Lobby decision) led them to oppose specific forms of birth control only for their women employees, the men could deny that the company-provided insurance plans provide the prescribed medications. Hence Hobby Lobby is accurately portrayed as an attack on women’s reproductive rights, noting that men’s rights were not similarly abridged.

Through the WBI lens, Hobby Lobby is easily as much about power of the owners to control the lives of their workforce. Workers are not equal humans deserving to hold their religious beliefs, including atheism or agnosticism. This view is the antithesis of democracy. Why are “conservatives” trying to reverse the arc of social justice toward expansion? They want to turn back time. They frequently, and often inaccurately, cite America’s Founding Fathers (sic). Well, here’s news for them. They were men of the Enlightenment period. If those “fathers” were alive today, most would be anti-corporate and be ashamed of the hacks on the Supreme Court — Roberts, Scalia, Thomas & Alito — feigning objectivity and a preference for precedents.

The media refer to the Hobby Lobby decision allowing “bosses” to make birth control decisions for women. In reality, owners are much more than bosses. They are feudal lords deciding what rights their enslaved peasants will or will not have. It’s important to remember that American employment law is based on the British model founded on relationships between Master and Servant.

Hobby Lobby allows the 0.1% to rule the 99.9% in companies. SCOTUS put the whip into the master’s hand and said “do as you wish with your female servants, say you are “sincere” and heard voices telling you to whip them, or just make up a reason, no one will ask you why.”

If you would have asked a reasonable person last year if companies could meddle with women workers’ most private choices about controlling if and when to bear children, that person would have said, “No, of course not. They cannot do that!” Alas, Maltby was right — they can and now they will!


R.M. Sapolsky. (2005) The influence of social hiearchy on primate health. Science, 308, 648-652.

Read the entire Hobby Lobby decision.


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This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 15th, 2014 at 12:33 pm and is filed under Bullying-Related Research, Rulings by Courts, Social/Mgmt/Epid Sciences. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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