- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Imagine if you worked at General Motors or Intel and they had the power to tax you for the purpose of lobbying Congress.

Every two weeks they would raid your hard earned paycheck without your permission to use your money for their own devices. Would you be OK with such a tax? Of course you wouldn’t.

Yet for many Americans this grievous action happens every pay period. But instead of GM, labor unions take money from workers, including nonmembers and spend it on political campaigns and activities that the workers themselves often oppose, in clear violation of their First Amendment right of freedom of speech.

In 1992, citizens in the state of Washington responded by passing an initiative requiring unions to get permission before taking workers’ money. Unsurprisingly, the measure proved extremely popular, with more than 85 percent of the state’s teachers “opting-out” of supporting the political activities of the Washington Education Association, the state’s teachers union.

Sensing the threat to its political power, the union filed a lawsuit arguing that the opt-in requirement violated the union’s free speech rights. Why? Because asking workers’ permission takes too much time and money better spent lobbying the government.

Unfortunately, the Washington Supreme Court agreed with the union. But earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in this case and is expected to rule by early summer.

The justices have a unique opportunity to stop this blatant free speech abuse and require that unions — like all other private organizations — ask permission before taking money for political activism.

The high court has often said workers have the right not to have their earnings taken for political activities with which they disagree, but that right is usually more theoretical than real.

For example, the court has said it is up to workers to object to how unions use their money, but that presumption makes it difficult for many workers, most of whom have myriad daily commitments and also may face retaliation if they voice their opposition to union policies. Moreover, unions have been engaged for decades in a concerted campaign to ignore or even evade the court’s decisions protecting worker rights and its requirement to offer dissenting workers a refund of money spent on lobbying.

These unions often take great pains to conceal how much money they spend so workers won’t know how much they are owed. And with the refund procedures deliberately made complicated and confusing, workers are deterred from even asking for the few dollars they are likely to get back.

Twenty years ago, the Supreme Court held this unconstitutional but unions keep doing it. And since neither Congress nor the president is willing to challenge the unions’ enormous political influence, those decisions have gone largely un-enforced.

In 1988, the Supreme Court’s decision in Communication Workers v. Beck prohibited unions from supporting political campaigns with money taken from dissenting workers, but President Clinton barred implementation of that decision in the federal work force and President Bush hasn’t touched the issue.

The First Amendment was written to protect the rights of dissenters. By requiring unions to get consent from workers — members or not — before taking their money for political activities, the Supreme Court will ensure that the rights it is supposed to protect are more than just empty promises.

Timothy Sandefur is an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit public interest legal organization dedicated to defending individual freedom and property rights. He authored PLF’s amicus brief supporting the state of Washington against the teachers’ union.

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