Supremes to Weigh Laws Crippling Union Speech

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Rewarding Work

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.

More Resources

Rewarding Work

Wal-Mart Guts Health Care Options for Workers

Prices are going up at Wal-Mart, for employees that is.

The company, already not known for generosity in benefits, is planning on eliminating many of their health care options, leaving workers with two choices: a high deductible plan and a Health Savings Account (HSA) plan. The plans are being called Value Plan and Freedom Plan, reminding us all once again of the fact that we now inhabit an Orwell novel.

The details of this news get horrific very quickly. When combining low wages with high deductible plans, scary things can happen. Wake-Up Wal-Mart's analysis indicates that a family depending on one of the offered plans from Wal-Mart could end up paying as much as 60% of their income to health insurance and that single workers could pay as much as 30%.

The company is claiming that the move will work better for most employees and save them money, but that is likely only for a very certain type of person -- young, single, and not chronically ill. Catastrophic coverage does not encourage preventive medicine and continuing to offer these backwards plans only increases the long-term likelihood of employees moving from Wal-Mart's health care system to having their costs covered elsewhere, either by public systems or through cost-shifting when they are unable to pay their bills.

The news that Wal-Mart is moving toward HSAs comes as a GAO study makes clear that these plans primarily benefit high-income workers, not the sort of employees one associates with Wal-Mart.

As we noted previously, there are alternatives. Even after a Maryland court ruled that the state's fair share health care bill, there is good reason to believe other states can find ways to implement stronger rules to shore up the employer-based health care system, rather than letting it slide further into disarray.

More Resources

Research Roundup

Food Safety, Public Health, Real ID Problems, The High Cost of HSAs, the Cost of Takings, and Katrina

With the recent outbreak of e. coli from infected spinach because of the negligence of the federal Food and Drug Administration, it's worth reviewing the report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest on how a proposed federal law, H.R. 4167, would overturn 200 state food safety laws protecting the public health.

"Despite high expenditures, the United States lags behind other countries on indicators of mortality and healthy life expectancy," according to a study by the Commonwealth Fund published in the journal Health Affairs. The study emphasizes that our country needs to make system-wide reforms that end the bureaucratic costs of "fragmented and unstable coverage" in favor of universal coverage of all Americans.

Looking at the impact of rightwing laws to create onerous identification requirements to vote, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that 11 million citizens do not have access to a birth certificate or passport, documents required to register to vote under a number of state and proposed federal laws, meaning that millions of voters will be effectively denied the right to vote by these laws.

For states considering using Health Savings Accounts as part of state health care reform, a sobering GAO study finds that such accounts overwhelmingly benefit high income individuals -- and that such plans will separate wealthier, healthy individuals into HSA plans, while poorer and less healthy individuals will be stuck with even more costly health plans.

A study by Washington State's Office of Financial Management finds that the proposed I-933 "regulatory takings" ballot initiative would cost the state over $2 billion and cities and counties as much as $5.3 billion in compensation to land owners who challenge local land use and environmental laws -- amounts that would effectively cripple environmental and planning laws in that state.

Surveying the tax incentive policies created to encourage post-Katrina recovery on the Gulf Coast, the Brookings Institution concludes that they are inadequate to meet the needs of residents unless they are combined with good planning, local capacity-building and more direct to rebuild local governance structures.

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

Washington State Supreme Court Decision, Washington Public Disclosure Commission v. Washington Education Association
Brief in Opposition to US Supreme Court taking appeal; other briefs to US Supreme Court
Public Citizen, Paycheck Protection
Center for Policy Alternatives, Paycheck Deception
Alliance for a Better California, NO on Proposition 75: “Paycheck Deception Act
American Rights at Work, The Anti-Union Network

Wal-Mart Guts Health Care Options for Workers

Wake-Up Wal-Mart, "Wal-Mart Eliminates Health Care Options"
Progressive States, "Fair Share Decision: Setback for Maryland, but Not For Other States' Reform"
Progressive States, "LegAlert: Fair Share Health Care"
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "GAO Study Confirms Health Savings Accounts Primarily Benefit High-Income Individuals"

Eye on the Right

File this one under borderline insanity. The National Center for Policy Analysis, a rightwing think tank, is now arguing that coal-fired power plants are good for public health. The reasoning? Coal-fired power plants provide jobs and employment produces income and money buys things like healthy food that stave off disease. Because, of course, the alternative to coal-fired power is to return to an era of living in caves and letting everyone fend for themselves. Here in reality, there is ample evidence that clean energy will create hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of new high-paying jobs.

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Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch


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