2/20/08

Supreme Court to scrutinize SEIU conduct

In an important First Amendment case out of Washington state, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that public employee unions must get consent from individual members before using their dues for political purposes.

The union had argued that if a worker didn't specifically object to the practice, his dues were fair game for labor bosses to spend on political activity. The Washington Supreme Court upheld the union position, actually ruling that to hold otherwise would violate the union's right to free speech, ignoring the dangerous ramifications for the free speech rights of the workers who were being forced to financially support political activism with which they disagreed.

Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court wasn't buying such snake oil. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote succinctly for a unanimous court that, "Unions have no constitutional entitlement to the fees of non-member employees."

On Tuesday, the high court agreed to hear another case involving the use of mandatory union fees.

Nationwide, 28 states authorize public unions to collect mandatory fees from all employees. That means 12 million workers in public- and private-sector jobs are required to pay dues or fees to a union even if they elect not to join, according to the National Right to Work Committee.

The latest case comes from Maine, where the Maine State Employees Association (MSEA) is the exclusive bargaining unit for many state workers. As a condition of employment, even those who elect not to join the association must pay compulsory "agency" fees, supposedly to cover the costs of the collective bargaining that benefits them.

But a handful of non-union state workers in Maine noticed that the MSEA was funneling a portion of their fees to its parent union, the Service Employees International, for use in collective bargaining lawsuits in other jurisdictions. That meant the workers were being forced to help pay bargaining costs incurred by union members in other states.

A federal appeals court upheld this practice, but it will now move on to the top court.

"The case is the latest instance of the justices addressing issues that could erode the power of labor unions," noted The Associated Press.

Yet, if limiting the ability of organized labor to use coercion to fund its agenda erodes union power, it's power these groups never should have enjoyed in the first place.

And if the justices rely on precedent, the Maine union will have a tough time during arguments.

In a 1984 case outlined on www.lawmemo. com, Justice Harry Blackmun cited a 1981 decision in which the court unanimously "determined that the {Railway Labor Act}, as informed by the First Amendment, prohibits the use of dissenters' fees for extra-unit litigation." Therefore, the Bill of Rights "proscribes such assessments in the public sector."

That would seem to be right on point, here.

If non-union public-sector workers who are part of a collective bargaining unit -- and must be in order to continue their employment -- wish to voluntarily donate a portion of their checks to help workers elsewhere in their negotiations with management, fine. But they mustn't be forced to do so.

(lvrj.com)

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