“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”
Who could deny such words? Who among us would want our money taken from us and used to aid political groups and to advance political ideas that we find offensive and abhorrent?
Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision Thursday, upheld the words of Thomas Jefferson in ruling against a Washington state public employee union that used compulsory union dues for political causes without first getting the approval of the dues-payers.
The ruling is a landmark case that should give impetus to the struggling nationwide movement for “paycheck protection” laws that require unions get such approvals.
In 1992, Washington state voters passed such an initiative. Workers can resign from a union but those unions are still allowed to collect dues from former members to pay solely for collective-bargaining activities, but not for political purposes.
Before the initiative passed, workers had to opt-out of the system, but after its passage the union needed to get affirmative approval.
There’s a significant difference between the two processes.
Those who have to opt-out face hurdles from the unions, which have every incentive to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to opt-out. The opt-in system is far more consistent with the Jeffersonian approach.
The Washington Education Association filed a lawsuit that made the claim that to get permission was an infringement on its constitutional free-speech rights. The Washington Supreme Court actually bought that preposterous argument, but the nation’s highest court fortunately wouldn’t stand for it.
“That was an amazing argument, because it was not about the union’s right to use its members’ money for political speech,” wrote the Seattle Times in an editorial Friday. “It was about using nonmembers’ money — people who had already taken pains to resign.”
“Unions have no constitutional entitlement to the fees of nonmember employees,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the primary opinion. Chalk it up as a victory for common sense and for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based free-market think tank that had fought this battle for a decade. The group’s president, Bob Williams, called the decision a victory for the First Amendment.
The National Right to Work Foundation, while applauding the substance of the ruling, was disappointed that the court didn’t use the opportunity to overturn the idea of compulsory unionization.
We, too, would like to see an end to compulsory unionization, but that doesn’t take away from the importance of the court’s decision limiting the ability of unions to force nonmembers to pay for political causes they oppose.