Dems Panicking Over High Court Union Dues Case
Saturday, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest public employees union, endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. That’s on the heels of another giant, the American Federation of Teachers. Soon these unions could have a lot less money to tilt elections for Democrats.
The United States Supreme Court, which opened its term Monday, is poised to rule whether public workers have to pay unions for collective bargaining even if they don’t join. A decision against unions would have its biggest impact on New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California and Illinois. Union coffers in these states could be drained, and labor activists are petrified. “Bush v. Gore decided a single election,” a union supporter warns, but this case “could decide elections for years to come.”
Just look at Wisconsin. The governor there, Scott Walker, was determined to tame the unions’ clout. In 2011, the Badger State released government workers from any obligation to pay union dues, even if they benefitted from union negotiating. Union rolls dropped by a third, or even a half, in just two years. The same thing could happen in many other states, if the high court rules against mandatory union fees in the current case.
Now, it’s a band of teachers from Orange County, California, leading the charge in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. “I am opposed to forced fees and forced unionism,” says Rebecca Friedrichs. But law in California and 22 other states compels public workers in unionized jobs to pay a “fair share” fee (same amount as dues) in return for representation. True, the law allows them a small time window to “opt out” of the union’s political activities and get a fraction of the money back. But the onus is on workers to apply for the opt-out every year. Most don’t get around to it. Inertia is on the side of the union.
According to the California teachers, it’s a First Amendment issue. Money is speech. Teachers are paying $174 million a year to support the California Teachers Association, even though many teachers disagree with the union’s left-wing positions and endorsements. The teachers’ lawyer, Michael Carvin, blasts the current law as “a multi-hundred million dollar regime of compelled speech.”
It’s the same unfairness in many states. Virtually all (98 percent) of AFT contributions to federal candidates go to Democrats. But a quarter of state and local employees are Republicans, and another 30 percent are independents.
Be prepared for a heated argument at the Court. Justice Elena Kagan, an adamant union supporter, insists the Court has no business overturning the longstanding opt-out arrangement. On the other side, Justice Samuel Alito has signaled he wants to liberate public workers from any compulsory fees. Three other conservative justices are clearly in that camp, but five votes will be needed to overturn the current system. Justice Antonin Scalia has voiced his opposition to allowing public workers to benefit from collective bargaining they refuse to support.
Scalia makes the outcome uncertain.
Nevertheless, union advocates are already quaking. It’s “an insidious way to bankrupt unions,” says Frederick Kowal, president of the faculty union at the State University of New York. “It may well be life or death for the unions,” warns Harvard Law professor Benjamin Sachs.
Left-wingers are making the class warfare argument, urging the court to preserve union clout for the sake of the little guy. But in truth, it’s the little guys — the hardworking taxpayers — who are suffering from the inflated cost of government. Thanks to over-the-top demands of unions and the Democratic Party that caters to them.
The Justices’ duty isn’t to protect unions. It’s to protect the rights of every individual. As Thomas Jefferson warned, “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.” It’s also unconstitutional.
Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and author of “Government by Choice: Inventing the United States Constitution.”