Politics & Policy

SCOTUS Should Scuttle Mandatory Government-Union Dues

Plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs at the Supreme Court, January 11, 2016. (Mark Wilson/Getty)
Everything government-employees’ unions do is inherently political, so mandatory dues violate workers’ free speech.

Every American should support a woman’s right to choose . . . whether or not to pay union dues. The Supreme Court will decide by late June whether women and men who belong to government-employee unions will enjoy this fundamental right as born-free U.S. citizens.

In the 1988 Beck v. Communications Workers of America case, the Supremes held that private-sector-union employees could demand refunds on those portions of their dues that underwrote activities beyond collective bargaining, especially cash spent on political candidates and causes with which employees might disagree. The guiding principle here was expressed with characteristic eloquence by Thomas Jefferson: “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

Private-sector unions can claim a distinction between their private-sector activity — namely negotiating over wages and benefits with private employees — and their public activity, which is namely shipping cash to campaigns. And, in the 2012 elections, 91 percent of that money went to the Democratic party and its contenders, and only 9 percent to the GOP, according to OpenSecrets.org.

However, with government workers’ unions, this distinction does not exist. Everything they do is in the public sector and, thus, political. Whether or not a teachers’ union ships a huge chunk of its dues to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, it engages in politics the very second its labor bosses ask the local school board for, say, higher salaries, more vacation days, prohibitions on merit pay, and limits on charter schools. These are all hotly debated political questions that directly affect taxpayers, for good or ill.

RELATED: Will the Supreme Court Government’s Encroachment on the First Amendment?

So sending any money to a government-employees’ union — not just its PAC — funds political activity. If a government worker wants such funds withdrawn from his paycheck before he sees it, fine. However, another worker should not be forced to subsidize this inescapable government-union politicking if she objects.

And Rebecca Friedrichs objects.

“This is important to me because I pay for collective-bargaining stances that the union takes, and I disagree with them,” the Golden State instructor and lead plaintiff in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association told Fox News Channel’s Shannon Bream on Sunday. “This union was voted in when I was a child. I have no vote as a fee payer. So, really, these unions are not speaking on my behalf. They are speaking on behalf of the union and the union leadership.”

For this reason, Friedrich’s claim is much more than a matter of mere labor law. Her attorneys told the Court on Monday that she has a basic human right under the Constitution’s First Amendment not to subsidize the political speech of union bosses who demand that public officials implement policies that Friedrichs rejects.

#share#Friedrichs makes labor bosses quake in their loafers.

“So the 35 million people that used to have collective organization is [sic] now down to 16 million,” Service Employees International Union president Mary Beth Henry said last Thursday on a podcast hosted by former Obama consigliere David Axelrod. “By next summer we’re going to lose another two million because of a Supreme Court case.”

RELATED: Why Friedrichs Matters

Patrick Semmens of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation urges Henry to put on a happy face.

“Unions shouldn’t fear voluntary dues if they really do as good of a job as they claim, and it’s why we’ve argued Right to Work is good for unions, because it makes them more accountable to rank-and-file workers,” he tells me. “A union that effectively represents its members doesn’t need compulsory dues, and a union that is ineffective and unresponsive to its members doesn’t deserve to be propped up with mandatory dues.”

Indeed, unions should welcome a Supreme Court ruling that makes dues voluntary. After all, if SEIU, the National Education Association, AFL-CIO, and other unions are delivering as much good as they claim, workers should be thrilled to keep paying their dues. If labor bosses and their union stooges in government worry that workers will halt their fees at the first possible moment, then they are confessing that unions just aren’t worth it.

RELATED: The High Court Takes on Teacher Freedom

If labor chiefs argue that their workers will try to enjoy everything that unions do for them, but not buy those services, then the union bosses are calling their members deadbeats who want something for nothing — literally.

People like SEIU’s Mary Beth Henry, the NEA’s Randi Weingarten, and the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka would be ill-advised to send that message, especially if they then need to ask workers politely for dues, rather than vacuum them out of their pay packets every fortnight, as they largely do today.

Big Labor is the only industry that enjoys this absurd special privilege. Imagine if United Airlines feasted on mandatory ticket sales. What if everyone in, say, California, Colorado, Illinois, and New York had no right to choose whether or not to buy their plane tickets from United? Without competition, guess how friendly the skies would be.

#related#Instead, United, American, JetBlue, Southwest, and other airlines persuade people to hand them money voluntarily for valuable services rendered. Unions should be worthy and confident enough to do the same.

In this connection, it is interesting to note Americans’ overwhelming rejection of forced unionism. An August 2014 Gallup survey found that 71 percent of Americans would vote for a Right to Work law to make union membership voluntary. In fact, 65 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of Republicans, and 77 percent of independents support the Right to Work.

So the water is officially fine. Is any presidential candidate in 2016 visionary enough to run on a national Right to Work law?

— Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.

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