June 18, 2013
The Right’s Boon in Knox v. SEIU
Posted on Feb 10, 2012
By Bill Blum
The Supreme Court’s justification for the asymmetrical treatment is both cynical and longstanding, dating back to the 1970s. As most recently articulated by Justice Antonin Scalia in a labor law case decided in 2007 (Davenport v. Washington Education Association), the dues collected from union members are seen as compulsory and therefore coerced, thus warranting opt-out protections for dissenting workers like those involved in Knox. Shareholder investments, by contrast, are seen as purely voluntary. If an investor doesn’t like the way Exxon spends its money on politics, he or she can always switch their portfolios to Google.
The strategic importance of this distinction has not been lost on the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which represents the plaintiffs in Knox, or by the ultra-right Pacific Legal Foundation and the Cato Institute, which have filed amicus (friend of the court) briefs in support of the plaintiffs, or by right-wing activists and bloggers. As a recent column featured on Andrew Breitbart’s “Big Government” website reasoned, an expansive ruling in Knox “could deny the right of public sector unions to automatically deduct dues from paychecks under any circumstance.”
And that’s exactly the end game—the death of public unions and with them their political action war chests that are the lifeline of the Democratic Party and progressive causes everywhere. From Indiana to Arizona, the right is targeting public employees. Proposed legislation in some states, such as Wisconsin, would outlaw public-sector collective bargaining over wages. In others, including Arizona, there are proposals to prohibit government bodies from engaging in any kind of collective bargaining whatsoever with public employee unions.
The right also knows that if any legal challenges to the new laws find their way to the Roberts Supreme Court, they will reach a friendly forum that in 2009 upheld an Idaho law banning payroll deductions for union political activities (Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Assn.). Given the court’s well- established record of conservative judicial activism, it would be only a small legal hop, step and jump to a ruling upholding a ban on all payroll dues deductions.
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