Supreme Court to Consider Whether States Can Cripple Union Free Speech Rights

Is is constitutional for state governments to cripple the First Amendment rights of union members to raise money to participate in the political process?

That is the question that the United States Supreme Court will address this term in reviewing a case from the Washington Supreme Court, Washington v. Wash. Edu. Assoc. (combined with a parallel case) Back in 1986, the US Supreme Court decided that employees benefitting from a union contract had a right to request and receive a refund of the portion of "agency fees" paid to the union that went to political activities. However, in 1992, voters in the state of Washington approved a law that went further and stated, a bit ambiguously, that no political funds could be collected "unless affirmatively authorized" by each individual.

The Washington Supreme Court struck down this rule as unconstitutional, since the procedure mandated by the state for enforcing the individual authorization procedure would be "extremely costly", thereby draining funds from union members and undermining their First Amendment rights. The US Supreme Court has stated that "the majority also has an interest in stating its views without being silenced by the dissenters," so the state imposing costly bureaucratic mandates on a union should be seen as itself a denial of free speech by the vast majority of union members who support a union's political activities.

Whatever the final resolution of the legal dispute -- and the consistently anti-union positions of the US Supreme Court in recent years does not bode well for protecting union members' free speech rights -- the decision by the Washington Supreme Court does emphasize the injustice of states imposing bureaucratic mandates like "paycheck protection" to cripple union member participation in the political process.

Notably, large corporations spend billions of dollars in politics without dissenting shareholders having ANY right to protest their money being used to undermine labor, consumer and environmental laws. Yet the rightwing activists who campaign for the bureaucratic crippling of union participation in politics are silent on that pervasive corporate corruption of the political process -- highlighting that despite the rhetoric, this whole campaign is not about solicitation for the rights of non-union workers but merely uses those workers as tools to serve the corporate interests that fund the anti-union network of groups that promote these kinds of laws and lawsuits.

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