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.”
Payroll Protection Initiatives
With the Supreme Court decision now settled, union activists are now focusing their attention on the California Paycheck Protection Initiative (CPPI), which is on the November ballot for voter approval. AFSCME successfully lead the charge against similar ballot efforts in 1998 and 2005.
The new initiative, which is backed by former Secretary of State George Schultz, and a grassroots group called Stop Special Interest Money Now, would prevent unions and corporations from collecting political funds through automatic payroll deduction.
Bernard Cade, a probation officer active with AFSCME California Local 685, views the Supreme Court decision and the ballot proposition as “an assault on unions” organized by the Koch Brothers and various corporate entities.
“There is no equilibrium between unions and corporations,” he said. “We gauge what we do in the union by talking to our own members, and by voting in their interests. Why should corporations be able to tell us what to do with our own members?”
So long as voters are properly informed and understand the stakes, Hans Liang, who is also active with Local 685, anticipates that they will reject the ballot the initiative.
“This is really a trick way to eliminate the way we collect our dues,” he told the Daily Caller. “It is designed to short circuit our source of funding. Corporations can just put money into PACs [Political Action Committees] without getting permission from their employees. They have the advantage, the corporations are one the ones getting the bailouts; this is a difficult time for public employees unions.”
So far, seven states have passed their own version of paycheck protection legislation, but only five are now active. The Court of Appeals for the 10th District of Ohio has prevented that state’s law from going into effect. Legal scholars have noted that Ohio court’s decision delivered in 1998 is in conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 Ysursa v. Potcatello Education Association ruling, which upheld a Utah’s law that forbids public employers from using payroll systems to collect political contributions. They are encouraging the Ohio state legislature to “re-enact” the payroll protection law.
Washington State, Michigan and Wyoming currently have paycheck protection laws that apply to all unionized workers. The laws in Idaho and Utah only apply to public sector unions. AFSCME has joined with other unions to file suit against HB 4929, the paycheck protection law Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan signed into law this past March.
In January, the North Carolina legislature overrode a veto from Gov. Beverly Eaves “Bev” Perdue to pass SB 727, which would prevent the state from collecting dues from the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE). However, a judge has issued a temporary restraining order preventing the law from going into effect. The NCAE is arguing on procedural grounds that a midnight session of the General Assembly used to pass the bill was unconstitutional.
Joe Baessler, who is active with AFSCME Local 2505 in Oregon, does not expect payroll protection to become a reality in his state anytime soon.
“There have been at least six different attempts and it has failed each time,” he said. “People recognize that this[payroll protection] is an attack on public employees. Our members typically give over and above what they need to for various campaigns.”
He cited the PEOPLE program as proof that that rank-and-file members of AFSCME are on board with the union’s political objectives. PEOPLE – Public Employees Organized to Promote Legislative Equality –is described as a “political action program” funded by voluntary donations from AFSCME members.
James Tierney, president of AFSCME Local 2384 in Arizona, told the Daily Caller that the question of fairness raised by non-union workers in the Knox case cuts both ways.
“The non-unions members are receiving the benefits of being in a union, but they don’t want to pay for any of it,” he noted. “I would say that we need to think very carefully about how we allocate our funding. We have Republican members who don’t support a far left agenda, but they do support the union.”