Having already experienced a continuous string of political setbacks at the state level, one of the nation’s largest unions was jolted again Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of non-union workers who objected to paying fees for union political activities without notice.
Union delegates and officers who spoke with The Daily Caller at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 40th International Convention in Los Angeles acknowledged that the ruling could greatly diminish their ability to finance political activism. The case, which was initiated by eight California civil servants, affects roughly 36,000 state government employees, according to court documents.
AFSCME encompasses 3,500 local unions representing 1.4 million members who work in public service and health care.
California Local 1000, the union chapter named in Thursday’s Supreme Court decision, had offered to refund all the fees it previously collected and filed a motion to dismiss the case. But the workers insisted in a separate brief that the case go forward. The Supreme Court previously ruled in Communication Workers v. Beck that employees couldn’t be coerced into making political donations.
“By barring unions from taking dues out of paychecks for political activities, the Supreme Court has opened the door to big business,” Danny Donohue, president of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA)/AFSCME Local 1000 in New York, told the Daily Caller. “By ruling in favor of big business the Supreme Court is ruling against the principles this country was founded on.”
Donohue is running for president of AFSCME against current Secretary-Treasurer Lee Saunders. The election results are expected later today.
Bruce Wyngaard, an AFSCME member with Local 11 in Ohio, said the high court has been trending against organized labor since it came under conservative control.
“Our unions are very democratic, and we always seek input from the membership” he said. “We represent non-union members with just as much vigor as union members in any kind of dispute. The court case is unfair because it allows non-union members to enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining without paying for it. The decision is reflective of a conservative corporate agenda.”
Steve Alviene, an AFSCME member from New York, agreed.
“What the Supreme Court did today will have a chilling effect on the rights of workers,” he said. “People who want to participate in our democracy know they can have a bigger voice when they operate collectively, rather than individually.”
In the Knox ruling, the court said the union must allow workers to opt into short-term assessments for political advocacy and that it cannot charge interim assessments to employees who previously objected to such assessments.
“The case itself is a result of a special political assessment charged by the SEIU to their members to pay for their campaign opposing sweeping reforms proposed by Gov. [Arnold] Schwarzenegger at the outset of his administration to bring the states costs under control,” Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG), observed.
“The forced fees succeeded in not only denying their members their rights, but had the impact through their use of putting tens of thousands of workers jobs in jeopardy as a result of the now intractable $18 billion deficit the state faces.”