- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2006

In 1779, Thomas Jefferson famously wrote: “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” Jefferson’s dictum, of course, never deterred Big Labor from using dues and collective-bargaining payments from members and nonmembers to finance a liberal political agenda, which in many cases had nothing to do with labor concerns and frequently supported the election of liberal Democrats whom more than a third of union members routinely opposed in the voting booth.

More than 200 years after Jefferson’s assertion, no less than liberal Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, writing for the majority in the 1988 Communications Workers of America v. Beck case, declared that federal labor law did not permit labor unions “to exact dues equivalents from nonmembers in any amount they please no matter how unrelated those fees may be to collective bargaining activities.” Big Labor responded by constructing oftentimes impenetrable obstacles preventing nonmembers from obtaining rebates for the portion of their fees that went to politics. Partly in response to Big Labor’s truculent reaction to the Supreme Court’s Beck decision, in 1992 voters in the liberal state of Washington overwhelmingly approved an initiative that required labor unions to obtain an affirmative consent from nonmembers before the unions could use the fees paid by them to pursue a political agenda unrelated to collective bargaining.

Not surprisingly, the Washington Education Association (WEA), which has more than 80,000 members, including about 60,000 K-12 classroom teachers, ignored the requirements by failing to obtain the prior consent of thousands of nonmember teachers before using part of their agency fees to pursue political activities. In 2000, then-Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, filed a lawsuit against the WEA in state court, which ruled in her favor. Later, the Washington Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision, declaring the affirmative-consent requirement to be unconstitutional because it imposed an “extremely costly” burden on the political activities of the WEA and violated the union’s First Amendment rights of free speech and association. How strange: The WEA extracts from agency fees from nonmembers in excess of collective-bargaining costs; the WEA then spends the difference on political activities that many nonmembers oppose; and the Washington Supreme Court asserts that it is the free-speech rights of the union that are violated by the prior-consent requirement.

Both the state of Washington and several nonmembers have appealed the Washington Supreme Court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently agreed to hear the case, probably in December or January. A 2004 Los Angeles Times exit poll of more than 5,000 voters nationwide revealed that 43 percent of voters from union households cast their ballots for President Bush. Nevertheless, political spending by labor unions routinely favors Democrats by 90 percent or more. “Sinful and tyrannical,” indeed.

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