MIX: Government employees' free speech on trial
Supreme Court challenge strikes at the root of Big Labor's political clout
Ohio to Wisconsin to California, state budget battles over extravagant
union privileges grabbed headlines and flooded airwaves throughout 2011.
This year, however, the fight to restrain public-sector union bosses
has shifted to a new venue. Tuesday, the Supreme Court weighs arguments
about the limits of union officials' power to spend compulsory union
dues on politics.
In Ohio and Wisconsin, legislation limiting
government union officials' ability to collect forced dues triggered an
immediate, Big Labor-instigated backlash. Union bosses know that their
political influence - and, by extension, their massive,
government-granted special privileges - rest on the power to use
workers' hard-earned dues to elect sympathetic politicians.
the public sector, this cycle of influence peddling has led to a truly
perverse state of affairs: Union politicos funnel workers' dues to
pro-Big Labor politicians, who then use their clout to further entrench
unions' forced-dues privileges. Until government-union bosses are
stripped of their ability to extract forced dues from unwilling workers,
this corrupt arrangement will continue to saddle taxpayers and local
governments with a ruinous financial burden.
In Wisconsin, Gov.
Scott Walker took the first step toward ending this vicious cycle by
limiting government-union bosses' forced-dues privileges. In Ohio, Gov.
John Kasich's reform efforts were reversed by a vicious union-backed
campaign. But the fight has shifted to the highest court in the land,
where the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU) faces a
class-action challenge to its forced-dues collection racket.
2005, SEIU officials in California imposed a "special assessment" on all
state civil servants in their bargaining unit - including those who
were not union members - to defeat a ballot proposal that would have
prevented public-sector unions from using forced dues for political
contributions without employee consent. As in Wisconsin and Ohio, union
operatives fought tooth and nail to protect their special privileges,
but several courageous state employees didn't take this scheme lying
With the help of attorneys from the National Right to Work
Foundation, eight civil servants took SEIU bosses to court on the
grounds that nonunion workers shouldn't be billed for union political
activism. In 2007, a federal district court ruled that union officials
were required to allow employees to opt out of the "special assessment"
and refund any dues collected to those who did, but that ruling was
reversed later by the often-overruled 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
reforms in places like Ohio and Wisconsin are an important part of any
effort to rein in out-of-control Big Labor bosses, but reaffirming
nonunion employees' First Amendment right not to fund union political
activism is equally critical. If the Supreme Court fails to protect
civil servants' paychecks, government union operatives will have access
to even more forced-dues cash to fight reforms and expand their special
privileges. Meanwhile, taxpayers get stuck footing the bill.
civil servants to subsidize the political agenda of an organization to
which they don't belong should offend every American, regardless of
political sympathies. Voluntary SEIU members may wish to financially
support their organization's political goals, but nonunion employees -
many of whom disagree with the union's agenda - are under no similar
obligation. Freedom of association is a bedrock principle of American
democracy, and no one should be compelled to support a group to which
they don't belong.
It's vital that the Supreme Court take a
strong stand to protect nonunion civil servants' paychecks from being
docked to fund union political activism. Not only will this help curb
the onerous financial obligations Big Labor has exacted from state and
local governments, it is critical to protect the freedom of association
of public servants everywhere.
Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Foundation.