PDQ: Pretty Darn Quick Blog (retired)

Supreme Battles over Union Dues


Last month, the Supreme Court weighed in on union politicking, upholding a Washington State law requiring teacher unions to first ask for consent from "non-member" teachers before they can use their dues money to support political causes. (These "non-member" teachers still have to pay most union dues but by the very act of declining membership, they have essentially already requested that their money not be used for politics.) Union critics argued that non-members shouldn't have to say no twice. On the other hand, union reps say that once the dues are paid, the union assumes full authority over how to spend it.

The Supreme Court, in a 9-0 decision, came down firmly on the side of individual teachers' rights and upheld the original Washington state campaign finance law. Still, the decision isn't much of the setback for organized labor that many critics of union politicking hoped.

The Court disappointed some by not issuing a broader ruling, one that might bring into question whether any money raised from compulsory union dues should be used for partisan political purposes, unless union members had given their permission for such use. The Supreme Court made no changes to the 1961 decision of Machinists v. Street, which concluded "dissent is not to be presumed--it must affirmatively be made known to the union by the dissenting employee."

Furthermore, a month before the SCOTUS verdict, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire obligingly signed a bill enabling unions to forgo compliance with the law requiring non-members' authorization of the use of their union dues for political purposes-- as long as the union has enough money in its general treasury to pay for such activities. Ironically, as attorney general in 2000, she filed the lawsuit against the WEA that started this whole mess--and that the result of which this very bill is designed to counteract. Now, as governor, there are clearly other issues at stake, such as the big bucks union contributions up for grabs in the state's 2008 gubernatorial race. The new statute is sure to face an uphill court battle.

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