Page 24


San Antonio IT’S HOTTER’N teenagers in love this afternoon. At the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 694 hall on N. Flores, just down the street from the bus depot, members huddle near the window unit in an upstairs office. Joe Garcia’s on the phone, as he often is these days, when he eyes a visitor. “Get yourself a soda water, young man, and I’ll be right with you. Lemme call ya later,” he barks into the phone, “I got the news media here. ” Garcia ambles across the hallway to an empty office and plops himself down on a long sofa, motioning the news media to do likewise. “So whaddaya wanna know, young man?” he says, pulling an index card from his shirt pocket. He begins reciting from the card, telling me what I want to know. I flip on the tape recorder. This is not the sort of interview I want to be doing. Surely, only five months after he entered the annals of constitutional history, there must be something original left to ask. “Excuse me for interrupting, Joe, but the facts I know. I wanted to talk to you about how it feels to enter the annals of constitutional history.” “Feels pretty good. The wife’s real tickled.” THE U.S. Supreme Court on February 19, in a landmark decision on the division of power between the federal government and the states, ruled that Joe G. Garcia, 41, who drives a bus for the publiclyowned San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority known locally as VIA is just as entitled to overtime pay under the federal law as if he were driving for a private company. The court said that state and local governments were not immune from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The Act is supposed to ensure that employers pay at least the minimum wages and overtime pay at the rate of time-anda-half after a forty-hour work week. Bill Adler works for the Texas State Employees Union and lives in Austin. Congress extended the Act to states and localities in 1974, but the Court ruled in 1976 that the extension was an unconstitutional infringement on “state sovereignty.” In that case, National League of Cities v. Usery, the court held that the 10th Amendment bars Congress from legislating in areas that have been the “traditional governmental functions” of the states. The 10th Amendment provides that powers not granted by the Constitution to the federal government are “reserved to the states.” It was the first time in 40 years since the New Deal that the Supreme Court had said a federal law intruded on the authority of the states. For the past nine years, however, the liberal wing of the court has successfully blocked attempts to apply the decision to other states’ rights questions. In 1982, for example, the court ruled that employees of the New York Stateowned Long Island Rail Road had a federally guaranteed right to strike because running a railroad was not a “traditional” state function. In 1983, the court ruled that the federal age-discrimination employment law applied to Wyoming state employees. By the time the high court heard Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority, the writing was on the wall. In 1981, then-U.S. District Judge Fred Shannon ruled, based on the National League of Cities decision, that mass transit workers were exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Both the union and the federal government appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that mass transit was not a traditional state function and that the 10th Amendment should not apply. The Supremes remanded the case to Judge Shannon, who, in February 1983, upheld his original verdict. The high court heard the case in March 1984, and, after failing to reach a decision by the end of the term, ordered a new argument for last October. In February, in a ruling that will affect roughly half of the nation’s 14 million public employees, the court reversed itself on the National League of Cities decision, voting 5 to 4 to permit Congress’s 1974 amendments to take effect. Justice Harry Blackmun, who voted reluctantly with the majority in the 1976 case, was the justice who in Garcia tipped the balance. Joined by the dissenters in National League of Cities Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, Byron White, and John Paul Stevens Blackmun wrote that the effect of that decision had been to have federal courts decide which state activities are or aren’t exempt from federal regulation a system he called “unworkable.” This arrangement, he said, “invites an unelected federal judiciary to make decisions about which state and local governments have sufficient clout in Congress to ensure that “laws that unduly burden the states will not be promulgated.” WELL BEFORE the corks hit the ceiling at Local 694, however, a well-orchestrated attack on the ruling was set in motion. “If they [San Antonio Metropolitan Transit] had won,” said Joe Garcia, who is now the union’s vice-president, “we were ready to say okay, the heck with it, the Supreme Court decision is final. And we figured if they lost, they’d do the same thing. But these guys haven’t given up, they’re just getting started.” The assault began with the terse, oneparagraph dissent of Justice William Rehnquist, who said it was unnecessary “to spell out further the fine points of a principle that will, I am confident, in time again command the support of a majority of this Court.” “How true, how true,” harangued James J. Kilpatrick, the Right’s flagship columnist. “Just as soon as Ronald Reagan has a chance to replace Brennan, Marshall or Blackmun with a latter-day Patrick Henry. . . .” Meantime, a Senate subcommittee held one hearing in Washington, July 25, and another on August 28 in Oklahoma City, and scheduled a third for September 10 in Washington on legislation that would overturn the effect of the decision “to wipe us off the books,” Garcia said. At the July hearing, Texas Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby joined a bevy of state and local officials, including the governors of North Carolina, Missouri, and Colorado, in howling about the impending financial doom for their states caused by the ruling. Hobby told the Labor Subcommittee of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee that the decision could cost Texas more than $20 million. Free Ride Is Over On Overtime Pay By Bill Adler THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15