January 11, 2007
Paying fair dues should not have to unfairly fund leftist activists...
Labor's Money Grab
January 10, 2007; Page A16
Compulsory dues are the financial foundation of Big Labor's political power. So you can bet union officials will be paying special attention today as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case that could affect how that money may be spent.
The appeal consolidates two cases from Washington state, where even nonmembers of unions can be forced to pay collective-bargaining dues as a condition of employment. In 1992, Washington voters rebelled against that obligation; they overwhelmingly approved a paycheck protection law that requires unions to get "affirmative authorization" from workers who don't belong to the union before spending their dues money on politics.
The state teachers union, the Washington Education Association, challenged the voter-passed law, and a state Supreme Court ruling last year struck it down on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment free-speech rights of union officials. It's a novel rationale, to say the least.
After all, every other special interest group trying to raise money for a political cause has to contact people and persuade them to contribute. That includes the National Rifle Association, Emily's List, the trial lawyers and Chamber of Commerce. But the Washington Supreme Court held that such opt-in provisions were "too heavy an administrative burden" for unions and thus unconstitutional. The state appealed the ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court now has a chance to decide in Washington v. Washington Education Association and Davenport v. WEA.
Washington is one of a half-dozen states to pass a paycheck protection law. And if the lower court ruling is upheld on the principle that unions have a constitutional right to extract money for political activities from even nonmembers, these laws could be jeopardized everywhere. Such a ruling could also undermine so-called "right to work" laws in 22 states, where workers currently can decide for themselves whether to join or support the union. If the High Court says unions have a First Amendment right to spend nonmember dues on politics, a right-to-work law that prohibits collecting dues from nonmembers becomes problematic.
The good news is that the U.S. Supreme Court has plenty of case law to work with. In its Beck and Abood rulings, the court said workers couldn't be compelled to support a union's political expenditures. And its Hudson decision spelled out procedures for how the competing interests of the union and nonmember workers could be balanced. Namely, the court said workers must be given an opportunity to opt out of political spending and receive a refund for dues money that isn't used for collective-bargaining purposes.
Washington state's law takes this a step further, requiring workers to actually opt into political activities, not merely opt out of them. And that's the way it should be if workers' rights are to be protected. Why should unions be able to take money from someone who objects, put it to use for lobbying and organizing, and then refund it after the fact?
The High Court has an opportunity to clarify these matters - and in the process stop Big Labor from continuing to trample the rights of employees averse to funding a union's political agenda.
Copyright 2007 - The Wall Street Journal