At the Supreme Court: The End of the Unions’ Gravy Train?

By January 11, 2007Labor Unions

Yesterday the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Davenport v. Washington Education Association (WEA) and Washington v. WEA, consolidated cases dealing with the validity of Washington’s “paycheck protection” law.

In 1992, Washington voters passed a law that requires unions to get “affirmative authorization” from workers before spending their dues on politics. The Washington branch of the NEA challenged the law and the state Supreme Court struck it down, finding — incredibly — that it violated the First Amendment rights of union officials. Talk about pretzel logic. The unions prefer “opt out” clauses where they can take the members’ money and squander it unless the members jump through (intentionally) difficult and circuitous hoops to get their money back. Proponents of the law much prefer the “opt-in” method, whereby the union only gets the money if the employee affirmatively opts to hand it over. This, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out in an excellent editorial yesterday (Subscription required), is the way every other group from the left and right has to raise its money — by asking for donations. For labor, it’s automatic — a direct-deposit scheme from which only the most clever and determined employee can escape.

You can see from the transcript of yesterday’s oral arguments that the Court didn’t appear all that friendly — OK, they appeared downright unfriendly — to the union’s case. According to this AP story, “Justice Samuel Alito was the most aggressive questioner [on the opt-in vs. opt-out question]. ‘Why should the First Amendment permit anything other than an opt-in scheme?’ Alito asked.” We were wondering the same thing.

You also have to wonder what the NEA was thinking in challenging this law, putting it on a course to a US Supreme Court that’s been pretty consistent — and not kind to unions — in this area. Desperate people do desperate things, apparently.

Let’s hope the Court does not break with precedent and upholds the Washington statute. If it does, it will make it that much harder for the unions to continue to squander their members’ money on candidates and causes which the members don’t support.