Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Stand Up to Unions First Amendment Rights Must Be Protected

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Stand Up to Unions First Amendment Rights Must Be Protected

Article excerpt

When the Supreme Court contemplates changing its mind, it must weigh the institutional interest in the law's continuity against evidence that a prior decision has done an injury. The court took 58 years to begin, with the 1954 school desegregation decision, undoing its 1896 decision affirming the constitutionality of "separate but equal" public facilities and services. On Monday, oral arguments at the court will indicate whether it is ready to undo 39 years of damage to the First Amendment rights of millions of government employees.

In a 1977 decision, the court affirmed a Michigan law requiring public-school teachers who are not dues-paying union members to pay "agency" or "fair-share" fees. These supposedly fund the unions' costs in collective bargaining for contracts that cover members and nonmembers alike. Today, public employees in 23 states are covered by such laws.

In Monday's case, 10 California teachers are challenging that state's law, under which nonmembers' fees can be as high as 100 percent of members' dues. The National Education Association and its California affiliate get some of nonmembers' fees.

The NEA began endorsing presidential candidates in 1976 (Jimmy Carter promised to create the Education Department) and always endorses Democrats for president. Government workers unions provided much of organized labor's estimated $1.7 billion in political spending in the 2012 cycle. In 36 states, from 2000 through 2009, teachers unions spent more on state elections than all business associations combined.

Interestingly, the California plaintiffs do not stress that they are conscripted into funding such explicit political activity. Rather, they make the more lethal (to public sector unions' power) argument that even the use of their fees to fund core union activities such as collective bargaining constitutes a "multihundred- million-dollar regime of compelled," hence unconstitutional, "political speech." Unions, these teachers say, bargain about issues that "go to the heart of education policy" - teacher evaluation and tenure, class size, seniority preferences, etc. - as well as political matters such as government's proper size, its fiscal policies and the allocation of public resources. …

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